Turkeys are on the brain this time of year: turkey with stuffing, smoked turkeys, leftover turkey sandwiches. There are, however, less desirable forms of turkey in the Billings community: aggressive turkeys, turkeys destroying landscaping, turkey excrement. Recently, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and City of Billings officials have received complaints of nuisance turkeys damaging yards and property. Undesirable turkey behavior is almost always the result of inappropriate human actions, especially the feeding of wild turkeys.
“Our intention is to protect public safety and property,” said Kevin Iffland, City of Billings Assistant City Administrator. “However, we need the public’s cooperation to make that happen.”
Turkeys in Montana
In North America, there are five different species of wild turkeys. Merriam’s wild turkeys are the only species present around Billings. There are no wild turkeys native to Montana. Beginning in the mid-1950s, biologists with then Montana Department of Fish and Game released Merriam’s wild turkeys from Colorado and Wyoming to parts of Montana. The turkeys established populations and today Montana has Merriam’s turkeys widespread across the state and populations of Eastern wild turkeys in northwestern Montana. Montana has spring and fall turkey hunting seasons each year.
Wild turkeys are omnivores and forage for a variety of foods, such as insects, seeds, nuts, frogs and snakes. Some of the larger birds in North America, males, or “toms,” can weigh 18 to 30 pounds while females, or “hens,” can weigh 9 to 12 pounds. Turkeys are active during the day and roost in trees at night to avoid predators.
Do not feed turkeys
Keep wildlife wild! Do not feed. Feeding wild turkeys—either intentionally or unintentionally—may change their foraging habits, cause them to be bold or aggressive and congregate. Typically, turkeys move throughout the day, foraging for a variety of natural foods. Artificial feeding can motivate turkeys to stay in a single location, which may increase flock size and cause an increase in disease transmission. Feeding of wild turkeys can be unlawful if the feeding harms local populations, including through increased disease transmission, or creates a public nuisance. These situations are handled on a case-by-case basis and can result in fines up to $1,000.
If you have bird feeders in your yard, ensure the area below feeders remains clean and the feed is inaccessible to species such as turkeys and deer. Unsecured garbage can also become a food source for turkeys.
Non-lethal hazing is effective in deterring turkeys away from your property and establishing dominance. Though large birds, turkeys can be scared easily.
Common turkey hazing techniques include:
- Tethered barking dogs
- Loud noises: yell, airhorn, whistle, etc.
- Get physically big: wave arms, open an umbrella, etc.
- Spray water from hose or squirt gun
- Install motion-activated sprinklers
- Chase, but do not make physical contact
Remember, these hazing tactics are intended to scare turkeys, not physically harm or kill them. Hazing roosted turkeys is especially important in motivating them to leave the area. This can be done with a hose.
Mating season for turkeys is between February and May. Males often become more aggressive and territorial during this time as they seek out a female and can attack their own reflections in objects such as cars and glass doors. Cover these reflective surfaces for the mating season or use hazing tactics described above to deter turkeys from your property and prevent damage.
FWP officials do not relocate wild turkeys in the Billings area. Especially with the recent outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza viruses, relocating birds can increase disease transmission and spread. Moving nuisance turkeys from one location to another does not solve the problem of nuisance turkeys, it merely relocates it.
“It is important to address the root cause of these nuisance turkeys,” said Matt Ladd, regional wildlife manager with FWP, “which is very likely residents feeding them.”
Make sure the only turkey you stuff is the one in your kitchen, not your yard. Do not feed wildlife, including wild turkeys, and haze them when appropriate to reduce the number of nuisance turkeys in Billings.