Nope! This isn’t your normal store-bought, tender, stuffed Thanksgiving turkey served with cranberry sauce. The critter I’m talking about is the wild turkey that’s probably hanging out in your backyard right now….
About 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic Age (I was around then but don’t remember much….) there were wild turkeys (Meleagris californica) roaming all over what was to become North America. But, for some reason or another, they became extinct. Then, in the late 1800’s, when California was becoming part of the United States, some early ranchers thought it would be a great idea to introduce wild turkeys for game birds, so they imported a hearty species from Mexico (Meleagris gallopavo). Just as these turkeys were beginning to gain a foothold, gold was discovered in California and a lot of folks started moving west. Those early settlers quickly discovered that these big birds were not only tasty to eat, but they were easy to shoot and dinner was the cost of a bullet. Thus, turkeys were quickly over-hunted (much like the buffalo) and, once again, turkeys became nearly extinct. And then, in the middle of the 1990’s, accompanying a conservation movement in California, wild turkeys were introduced for a third try, this time a “Rio Grande” subspecies (Meleagris intermedia). These turkeys thrived because folks discovered that hunting for dinner was no longer fashionable, and store-bought poultry was pretty cheap.
Illustration by Dennis Zieminski
In these few decades since their last reintroduction, wild turkeys have propagated beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. A well-meaning triumph for one person may spell disaster for another. No one asked our local grape farmers if repopulating wine country with wild turkeys would be a nifty idea. Turkeys may be omnivores (they’ll eat anything) but grapes are one of their favorite food groups, and a gaggle of wild turkeys can strip the fruit off a grapevine in a heartbeat. Wild turkeys can also be very aggressive, and there have been reports of turkeys attacking and chasing house pets and even people (If our dogs see a turkey, they high-tail it for the safety of the house). Even though turkeys may sleep in trees at night (for protection), their preferred mode of travel is walking or running. And they are fast! A turkey can zip along much quicker than you can run, at speeds up to 25 MPH. Even though they prefer to not fly, they will easily and happily fly over a vineyard fence (electric or otherwise) in search of their next meal: fresh grapes on the vine!
That expensive fencing that you installed to keep deer out of your vineyard, electric or wire, won’t keep turkeys away from your fruit. They simply fly over the fences. So how can you keep turkeys from stripping the fruit off those tasty ripening clusters of grapes? There aren’t any natural predators except for the few mountain lions we have in our area (and any self-respecting cougar would much rather take down and dine on a deer than spit out a bunch of feathers to get at its dinner). Noise machines or motion-activated water blasters might work for a while, but turkeys just ignore those things after a bit. At the Sacramento Symposium in January, I did come across an AVIAN CONTROL booth that touted a new non-toxic “bird repellent” spray that supposedly works for wine grapes. Knowing I was going to write this article, I asked if the spray worked with turkeys and the reply was “yes!”. Needless to say, I bought some and I’ll let you know if it works! Other than owning a couple of huge, fearless mastiff dogs that aren’t afraid of anything, the most effective way to eliminate wild turkeys is to hunt them. Hunting permits, of course, are required and the rules are strict, but hunting is permitted in our area.
We have a couple of local turkey hunter friends that always call at the beginning of the season to ask to come out to GlenLyon and hunt turkeys for food. We always respond with a resounding “YES!” and our pals usually drive away very happy, dinner in hand!
After they left I was walking out of the winery (still in my PJ’s) with my hands full, heading for my car. Ten yards up the hill, looking down at me, was a monstrous gobbler…and he was one angry critter! (Maybe he was missing a couple of hens from his harem….). He started gobbling like crazy, aggressively spread his wings (he was big!), and started racing down the hill to attack me. I had no time to run away, so I dropped everything I was carrying, raised my arms and started screaming at this huge, fast-approaching bird. Thankfully, when he got about 8’ from me, he realized that I was much bigger than he was, so he made a U-turn and skedaddled away. (I did almost soil myself….) I briefly visualized the lead article in the next edition of The Kenwood Press: “Local pajama-clad Vintner attacked and maimed by wild turkey!”
That’s it for wild turkeys, and may they stay out of your vineyard or garden! Next month, a final chapter on a couple of other annoying critters in the vineyard.
I’ll leave you with a quote by the immortal Irish poet and novelist James Joyce (I knew him): “What is better than to sit at the end of the day and drink wine with friends? Or substitutes for friends….”
Slainte m’hath! Squire Fridell GlenLyon
It takes a long time to grow an old friend.