Turkeys on the move: Rural neighborhood seeing gobblers year 'round
Ron Sovick of Bagley calls his house the "Turkey Super 8 Motel."
This is the second year he and his wife, Ellen, have seen turkeys eating, sleeping and even socializing around their yard. While the gobblers can be a bit burdensome at times, with their constant dirt-scratching and birdseed fetishes, the Sovicks said they will be eating a store-bought turkey for their Thanksgiving Day dinner.
"They come and go, but they are here through the winter," Ron said, looking outside his dining room window at a turkey extending its long neck to peck sunflower seeds out of a bird feeder.
The Sovicks discovered they had turkeys living in their rural Bagley yard last winter, when their neighbor, Judy, stopped by to check on the house while they were gone.
"I went up to the house and standing on the deck were two turkeys," said Judy Anderson, the Sovick's neighbor.
In their 30 years of living in Clearwater County, neither Ron nor Ellen had ever seen turkeys in their woods. They find the turkeys interesting to watch.
Ellen said one of the turkeys chased her cat outside.
She also saw two turkeys fly across the yard after spotting a fox nearby. And she used to hear the turkeys gobble every time a vehicle drove by on the road in front of their house.
"We had two turkeys sit on our deck railing and stare at the TV through the window," said Ron said, grinning. "I think they liked the flashing lights."
Last month, Ellen thought one of the turkeys was sick after finding feathers lying all over the yard.
"It looked like it had been plucked," she said.
But one month later, she saw the turkey's feathers grew back.
"I guess it must've molted," Ellen said.
Last spring, the Sovicks counted three males and two females in their yard.
"It was fun to see them strutting their stuff," Ellen said, pointing to two photographs she took of a male turkey fanning his tail and showing off its bright red wattle.
At night, Ron said, the turkeys sit in the big ash tree in front of their house. He has seen the turkeys roost in the tree even in sub-zero temperatures. But the turkey's amusing roosting behavior was short-lived after the Sovicks continually found a pile of turkey droppings on their deck.
Eventually, Ron cut a few of the limbs off the tree so the turkeys could not roost on that side of the tree.
"They still poop on the deck, but we're not cutting any more limbs off the tree," Ron said.
As entertaining as the turkeys have been at times, the Sovicks said the turkeys can be a nuisance. They ruined one of Ellen's flower gardens by consistent scratching. Also, they can be noisy, she added.
Ron, Ellen and Judy are not sure whether the turkeys are wild or pen-raised from a nearby farm. Ron thinks the turkey around his home is likely a pen-raised bird because of its white patch he noticed on its plumage. Judy said she thinks the flock of turkeys at her house is wild because they fly away when she tries to get close to them.
Judy said last spring she counted 14 turkeys in front of her house - "two moms and 12 babies." She and the Sovicks say they think the turkey population seems to be growing.
According to Blane Klemek, assistant wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it is difficult for a person to know whether a turkey of the eastern subspecies of wild turkey is wild or domesticated based solely on plumage.
"We do have wild turkeys in the north land," Klemek said.
According to Klemek, the DNR, along with volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation, released more than 30 turkeys in northern Clearwater County in 2008. They were trapped from Olmsted and Goodhue counties in southern Minnesota and released on private land in Eddy Township north of Bagley.
Klemek said Clearwater County had the right mix of deciduous, coniferous and agricultural lands to support wild turkeys.
While turkeys are instinctually skittish of humans, they can be attracted to yards for food.
"A lot of people feed squirrels, deer and song birds," he said. "Turkeys will find the same food these other animals eat attractive."
While DNR has not monitored the abundance of the wild turkeys since their release, Klemek said, the DNR has kept track of people who report turkey sightings.
"They seem to be expanding," Klemek said of the released wild turkey population. "The owners of the land where the turkeys were released have also reported seeing more and more birds."
According to Klemek, the cold weather does not affect the survival of turkeys as much as snow depth does.
"When snow gets too deep, wild turkeys cannot access food on the forest floor," Klemek said. "In agricultural areas, the snow tends to not be as deep compared to the woods."
Turkeys are surprisingly resilient when it comes to survival, Klemek added. They are large, strong fliers, and will eat just about anything. At this time of the year turkeys prefer acorns, but will not hesitate to go for bird seed.
While it is legal for people to raise these birds, Klemek said, the DNR recommends people do not release pen-raised birds into the wild or let them stray because of the possibility those birds will pass on diseases to wild birds or breed with them, which would compromise their wild genetic strain.
Klemek suggests anyone who sees a turkey in their yard to leave it alone, especially in areas where there is a possibility there could be a wild turkey population.
"Wild birds were released in the hopes that the wild population would grow, expand and some day, down the road, work into other areas so a hunting season could be opened," Klemek said.
He said over the years, wildlife managers and turkey biologists have observed turkey populations expanding on their own. With winters being milder across the state, he said, it is becoming easier for turkeys to adapt and survive to new environments.
Today hunters who obtain a wild turkey hunting permit can apply to hunt in zones as far north as Park Rapids, Becker County and even right up to the southern border of Clearwater County.
As for the Sovicks and their neighbors, they will continue to keep an eye out for the turkeys that roost, eat and gobble in their yards. They wonder how many more they will see next year.