Thanksgiving may be on the holiday horizon, but in Pilot Rock an unwelcome abundance of turkeys is more fowl than festive.
After residents complained of ruined gardens and ubiquitous turkey scat — the birds are accused of covering a pickup truck with their nightly droppings — the Pilot Rock City Council has decided to call in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to lay out options for dealing with wild turkeys.
“I love wildlife, but this is getting to the point where it’s just ridiculous,” Mary Ann Low told the council during Tuesday night’s meeting. Low said she put loads of work into landscaping her mother’s front yard, only to see it destroyed by the birds.
“Nothing is left,” she said. “They dust bathe in the soil. They eat whatever is there.”
By most estimates, the total flock in Pilot Rock numbers between 50 to 70 turkeys, but the group splinters when they hit town. Councilor Bob Deno said there are 15 that hang out in a tree on his property. Low said she once counted 68 birds in her mother’s yard.
The council suggested a few clever solutions for ousting the birds, including a spay and neuter program. Councilors also debated what gauge of shotgun would best take care of the problem.
But in the end, they agreed it was a serious problem that would require the ODFW’s expertise.
When it comes to dealing with unwanted turkeys, it’s not the ODFW’s first rodeo.
Five years ago, the department was called into Milton-Freewater, which had its own turkey troubles. The birds would gather on the golf course, and residents claim one postal service worker fell victim to a turkey attack. But the Milton-Freewater City Council ultimately voted to allow the turkeys to remain.
“It’s not an atypical situation,” said ODFW wildlife biologist Greg Rimbach. “It only gets bad if you have folks who just plain like the turkeys. They need to realize they live in a community with people who don’t like them.”
Everyone — the city council, police department and residents — would need to be on the same page for a solution to work, Rimbach said.
He listed six standard options for curbing unwanted wildlife:
1. Remove the animal’s food source. In other words, stop feeding the birds. Rimbach said this is the simplest option and the one that ODFW typically recommends. It would likely require bureaucratic enforcement actions, like a city ordinance designed to fine residents who repeatedly fed the birds.
Rimbach admits there’s more that attracts turkeys than simply laying out seed. Gardens — full of scrumptious bugs and flowers — can be a big draw. So too can grain, which attracted birds in big numbers to Pendleton eight years ago.
“They love wheat,” Rimbach said. “They’ll just walk down the road and pick the grain out.”
It’s not a quick-fix solution, but if the public stopped feeding the birds, they would likely dwindle in numbers through Thanksgiving, finally disappearing around spring of next year, Rimbach said. They’d likely take over habitat up and down Birch Creek, farther from Pilot Rock.
2. Build a barrier to keep the animals out. This option is costly and, in this case, completely ineffective. Turkeys can fly.
3. Make it so uncomfortable for the animals that they decide to go elsewhere. The birds are creatures of habit, often returning to the same trees every night. The Pilot Rock turkeys have shown a preference for the trees along Birch Creek, which has not been appreciated by the residents there. The birds can be discouraged from roosting by loud noises like gunshots, Rimbach said. But he added that Pilot Rock’s municipal code is clear on the prohibition of firearm use within city limits, and it’s not always a great idea to disrupt the night silence.
4. Encourage the animals to relocate by providing a food source elsewhere. ODFW tends to discourage this option, as it could lead to the spread of disease, Rimbach said.
5. Trap and transplant the animals. This option is the most labor-intensive, time-consuming and cost-heavy. Rimbach said they’re not sure where they’d take the birds, but there’s plenty of habitat within the region.
6. Kill the animals and donate the meat to a food bank. It would be complicated, but might look similar to Oregon Senate Bill 373, Rimbach said. Passed this year, the bill gives cities the ability to petition ODFW to humanely euthanize urban deer populations within city limits. The ODFW is currently working on rules and a pilot program to accompany the bill.
Regardless of the option the council selects, Rimbach stressed that Milton-Freewater can’t just quit the turkeys cold turkey.
“No matter what we do, we’re never going to get rid of all of them,” he said. “We’ll always have a few turkeys.”