Cambrian: Slice of Life

Is it just me, or there more turkeys trotting around Cambria these days?

Wild turkeys in Cambria, California.
Wild turkeys in Cambria, California.

What’s the first thing you think of when I say “turkey”? Thanksgiving? The Euro-Asian country? Politics? (Be nice, now!)

How about when I say “wild turkey?”

If you say “bourbon,” you probably don’t live in Cambria.

Me, I think of my back yard. And a small young cat stalking a large native bird. Silly feline. Just what did you think you were going to do with the turkey if you caught the him?

Or the mortifying memory of me doing a brisk, cartoon-character turkey trot up the patio staircase because Big Bird had decided I was in HIS territory and was pecking at my heels. Cheeky sod.

Are there really a lot more turkeys in Cambria these days, or have the flocks that have been been here for years just been on the move?

Maybe both, according to the recently promoted Capt. Todd Tognazzini of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. (The Morro Bay High School/Cuesta/Cal Poly grad covers his new, five-county beat from SLOCO and Monterey.)

He said July 12 that Cambria has a denser urban population of the big birds than the norm … primarily because some of us feed them.

Not good.

“People think they’re doing a good thing by feeding the turkeys,” Tognazzi said.

But it doesn’t help the birds, he said.

The turkeys “get acclimated to being around town, get used to being around people. With no natural predation” in the neighborhoods, he said, the flocks can and often do expand. And get, well, cocky.

We’ve lived in this house since 2009 and elsewhere in Cambria since 1971, and this is the first spring and summer that our property has felt like a turkey farm. (No, we don’t feed ‘em.)

Before this, we occasionally saw a few big birds at a time up here, rather as if they’d gotten lost, or were being temporarily shunned by the rest of their flock. Maybe a beta male was off sulking because he’d battled with the alpha chap and lost.

Now? Lots of turkeys. Here. Frequently.

I’ve heard their chirpy-gargling cries and gobbling calls throughout the day. Fortunately, they seem to sleep when we do, for which insomniac me is profoundly grateful.

Maybe the hens are succumbing to some wanderlusty yen to travel, and the love-struck guys are following closely behind, keeping an eye on the harem.

Around here, the females seem to ignore the testosterone posturing.

Obviously, the gals must respond to it somewhere, based on the number of chicks. That IS how flocks expand, after all.

The males’ macho attitudes are prominent as they issue gobbling warnings to their opponents and sing love songs to their mates. The big toms strut around, tail fans in full display, wings trembling so much so that if I listen closely, I can hear the scratching sounds as the feathers drag on the ground.

I suppose those wings can create problems for them, especially as they tried to stride through 5-foot-tall meadow grasses in May and June.

Then it was time for our annual due diligence, weed-abatement style, as required by the services district and Cal Fire. It’s not an easy job for Mike Rice and his guys. Ever tried to weed-whack around a turkey?

Now, the native gobblers waddle and peck their way through our mowed meadow and the eucalyptus grove. They wander under the trees and up and down the hills (nothing’s flat on our property).

Occasionally, I’ll go out to our front yard and find a turkey or three strolling toward me (I admit it, I turn around and go back). Or I’ll see one staring at himself in the mirrored surface of our royal blue Toyota, trying to figure out that other turkey staring back.

Notice to Big Bird: Staring is fine, turkey, but no pecking allowed.

I haven’t yet seen them fly up into our tall trees, but I’ll have to do some dusk-time snooping.

Hosting a turkey trail is one thing. Being a turkey roost is something else entirely.

And further, big birds, y’all are welcome to wander at will in the meadow. But please stay off our decks, front walkway and even the driveway.

Turkey poop is hellish hard to remove, y’know, especially off of gravel and roofing.

Moral of the story? Don’t feed wild turkeys, or your patio could be next.