Environment

Pushy turkeys go wild at Cal Poly. Watch video of their shenanigans

It’s mating season for wild turkeys in San Luis Obispo County. This tom was in pursuit of a couple of females at Camp SLO near Cuesta College in April 2017, strutting around with his tail feathers all fanned out.
It’s mating season for wild turkeys in San Luis Obispo County. This tom was in pursuit of a couple of females at Camp SLO near Cuesta College in April 2017, strutting around with his tail feathers all fanned out. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

It’s turkey breeding season on the Central Coast, and that means some wild toms are getting territorial and aggressive.

One of their favorite spots to roam and strut is at Cal Poly, where they’ve been spotted displaying their feathers, chasing down students and providing fodder for entertaining videos.

One recent scene was captured on a video titled “Gang of Turkeys Attack College Student,” posted on Facebook by UNILAD this week. It’s since been viewed more than one million times.

The video shows three turkeys antagonizing a person wearing a backpack on the sidewalk of Grand Avenue in front of the Sierra Madre and Yosemite residence halls.

She tries to swat them away, but they surround her, even as she enters a getaway vehicle.

As the vehicle drives off, the persistent turkeys give chase, running along side the car. A San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority bus passes through the scene, confirming it’s Cal Poly.

Common sight on campus

The spectacle is an annual event on campus this time of year, which is home to the large birds due to rural surroundings that provide habitat for fowl that are surprisingly fast on their feet.

Stories historically abound of them giving chase, pecking legs with their beaks or swatting people with their sharp spurs.

Fish and Wildlife Capt. Tom Tognazzini said the turkeys are particularly active now because it’s the beginning of breeding season. Toms are displaying feathers and getting aggressive to claim territory for breeding.

Tognazzini said he frequently receives calls about ornery turkeys badgering people at Cal Poly, Camp SLO and near the Sheriff’s Office.

Male turkeys will fight, and the dominant turkey will breed with a hen, he said.

While the toms roost in trees, the hens stay on the ground and lay an egg a day. When a hen has laid a clutch of around 10 or so, she’ll sit on the nest until they hatch and little, bright yellow chicks emerge.

Beware protective mama turkeys

It was after chicks were hatched on campus one day a few years ago that a turkey kerfuffle sent a professor to the hospital.

As Tognazzini remembers it, a hen with her feeding chicks were trapped between two buildings. When class got out, students and teachers walked through the area, disturbing the hen.

“She’s going to defend her chicks,” Tognazzini said. “She flew up because the chicks were just a few days old.”

The hen barreled toward a student, who held up a backpack in defense. The student jumped back, right into a professor who fell and hit their head on the concrete, he recalled.

An ambulance carried the professor away as Tognazzini arrived to gather the eight or nine chicks and relocate the family into the hills.

So what should you do if find yourself in a rafter of turkeys or if a solo tom is trying to take you on?

Do not run.

“They’re pretty fast. They can outrun you,” Tognazzini said. Instead, he said, “Swat it with a stick. Should curtail the threat.”

For those so inclined, turkey hunting season begins March 30.

And no, you cannot shoot one on campus, even with a bow and arrow.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: mvaughan@thetribunenews.com
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