Although many hunters dream of larger, more robust turkey populations, there are places in the wild turkey’s range where these animals are overly abundant. In large numbers, in fact, turkey can actually become a real pain, likened to areas with high densities of white-tailed deer. Turkey can cause property damage in many ways, particularly in suburban areas where large numbers of both people and turkey are forced to exist together. Although these situations call for objectives that are a far stretch from most turkey management goals, in the end population management can go both ways—up and down. Reducing turkey populations can take place in a couple of ways. Hunters are fairly aware of one of them, but another way is through trapping.
The setting was Johnson City, Texas. Some of the wild turkeys in Johnson City, 45 miles west of Austin, had worn out their welcome. They had messed on yards, scratched paint on cars, made more noise than anyone could have imagined and generally annoyed some folks living in the public housing for the elderly and people with disabilities. “Before Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) took them, we had a bigger turkey population than human resident population,” said Pamela Brace, executive director of the Johnson City Housing Authority, which runs the cabin-style units where about 70 people live. “They’ve eaten the plants in their yards, and they’ve come up on their porches and scared their pets.”
“There were so many turkeys in my backyard that my Chihuahua had to go out there and bark at them so she would have a spot,” said Shelly Heskett Harris, a resident of the public housing and the author of a new romantic adenture called “Beyond the Shimmer Gate.” Shelly has a list of complaints on the wild turkeys, 44 of which were trucked by TPWD to a landowner cooperative near Corsicana, southeast of Dallas.
The departure was well-received. “I don’t know if you know it or not, but a turkey eats all day long and poops at the same time,” Shelly said. Besides, they’re not songbirds. “A turkey has just one note — and it goes on for hours until you want to go out there and wring its neck,” she added. Where’s the cranberry sauce when you need it? The relocation of the wild turkeys to more suitable habitat began after a maintenance man for public housing called TPWD looking for help.
Sure, the residents brought the problem on themselves by feeding the birds. “People fed them corn; that’s how they get so prolific,” resident Laurie Williams said. The birds had gotten so brazen that it had become downright Hitchcockian. “Don’t forget about when they laid eggs in the back of Larry’s truck,” said maintenance worker Kemp Elliott, who helped TPWD with the trapping. He doesn’t know what his friend Larry Haley did with the eggs. Maybe there was an omelet.
TPWD came out to move some of the birds twice. On February 23, 15 birds were nabbed in baited traps, put in 3-foot-tall birdpoop-proof cardboard boxes, then driven north on a flatbed. The second batch, 29 birds caught and moved on March 4, were brought to justice via a drop net. “I’m not supposed to use the word ‘nuisance,’ ” said Mike Krueger, a TPWD district leader in an area that includes Johnson City. “But they were doing what turkeys do — leaving droppings, scratching up flower beds, roosting in trees above homes and making noise. You can hear them before sunrise, gobbling and cackling.”
Krueger couldn’t provide a figure on how much it cost the state to move the turkeys, but he figures it would have cost $100 to $150 a bird, had the job been done by a private trapper. The prevailing attitude seems to be thank God and flatbed they’re
gone, although plenty of the Rio Grande turkey species remain. “My wife thought they was cute, too,” said Bobby Fenton, a good ol’ boy who lives in a rustic neighbor hood near the public housing and retired from his game warden job “about 50 pounds ago.”
“She had just bought a new black Buick, and there was two of them on the top of her car. After that, she didn’t think they were so cute. When you get one sitting on your car and his old toenails are scratching your paint, you kind of want them gone.”