Note: This Thanksgiving day feature was published on Richmond Confidential and was accompanied with a ZeeMaps map showing the last turkey sighting, as well as links more information about turkeys. The unique bit about this article was how involved the community was in helping me find the turkey. Locals also submitted photos, one of which I used in my article.
She is quick, she is bright-eyed, and she is roaming free. This unnamed, unclaimed, and so far uncatchable little turkey has been roosting on the rooftops of houses along the Richmond/El Cerrito border since mid-November.
“It was in and out of the street, jumping on top of cars,” said Sandra Simons, a Richmond resident. She first spotted the turkey on Nov. 9 at the intersection of Macdonald Ave. and Key Blvd.
“We tried to get it out of the street and stop the cars going by so it wouldn’t get hit,” she said. “A police car showed up and started emitting turkey gobble sounds from their loudspeaker, and the turkey answered but they couldn’t catch it. It just kept going around and around the police car and finally ended up on top of an electrical pole.”
Captain Mark Gagan, a spokesman for the Richmond police department, could not confirm this story and said police do not have turkey sounds on their loudspeakers. Perhaps, he said, one of the officers gobbled at the turkey in order to catch it.
Simons said she called Contra Costa County’s animal control department. “They said because it is a wild animal they can’t do anything,” she said. “They said just to trust drivers to follow the rules of the road and not run it over.”
But according to Dr. Richard Buchholz, a wild turkey expert in the biology department at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, the turkey is probably not wild. Buchholz examined a photo of the bird for Richmond Confidential.
“She is definitely not a true wild turkey. Wild turkeys have longer, thinner legs, a sleeker body shape, and females in particular have very little head ornamentation,” he said, referring to the small red caruncles on the bird’s neck. He said the bird looks like a bronze breed of domestic turkey because of its coloring and thick, short legs.
“Since she is flying up on roofs, it is possible for her to also be a game farm turkey or domestic-game farm mix,” Buchholz said. She could have been someone’s pet or a farm bird that somehow escaped. Or she might have been roosting with the wild turkeys sometimes spotted in the Richmond hills.
“It could simply be a turkey that took a wrong turn, got frightened, took flight and doesn’t know how to get back,” Buchholz said.
Brandon Houck, director of conservation operations for the National Wild Turkey Foundation, agreed that this turkey may very well be a pen-raised bird. Wherever she comes from, the fact that she is wandering by herself at this time of year is unusual and probably dangerous for her.
“There are many pen-raised turkeys that appear to be wild but lack the instincts of a bird raised in the wild,” he said. “They are very apt to be habituated to humans and are often dependent on people for food.”
“It is odd for a wild turkey to be alone this time of year,” he added. “Normally, a hen would be in a brood flock with other hens and their young.”
Turkeys gather together in large numbers during this season, eating constantly to store up fat for the winter and build up egg-laying resources for the spring.
They need a healthy combination of grassland and forested landscape where they can eat native foods like insects, acorns, and wild berries, Houck said.
Though this turkey has been seen rummaging through people’s yards for food, she has also been chomping on chips, bread, and fast food.
Cathy Parsons, a local resident, was about to eat her baked potato from Wendy’s when she saw the turkey in the parking lot near the intersection of Nevin and Wilson Avenues.
“The poor thing seemed a little scared, but I fed it some of my potato,” Parsons said. “It was just so cute.”
Like Simons, Parsons also called police and animal control but was told nothing could be done.
City-dwellers aren’t always thrilled to have a turkey in the neighborhood.
“Some love them, while others would prefer they weren’t so close to their homes,” said Houck. “This often creates a conflict between well-meaning citizens who continue to feed wildlife and other residents who resent the birds scratching in yards, leaving droppings on sidewalks, and waking them up with early morning vocalizations.” What’s more, turkeys, with their large claws and sharp beaks, can sometimes become aggressive.
“It would be best for it to be captured and brought to an animal sanctuary (if captive raised) or released into an appropriate habitat (if truly wild),” Buchholz said of the Richmond bird.
E-mails to animal control went unanswered. The Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek said there was nothing it could do for the turkey as well, unless it was injured. For now, the turkey remains on her own, wandering the streets of Richmond.
On a sunny afternoon last week, Parsons ran into the turkey again. This time, the hen was perched on the roof of a house while some neighbors walked by, oblivious to its presence. Parsons snapped photos of the turkey with her camera phone to show her daughter.
“It’s just so beautiful, the bird,” she said. “I guess this one is escaping Thanksgiving.”