While most people may only think about turkeys at Thanksgiving time, the truth is that wild turkeys are a constant presence in the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes, that presence turns into a nuisance, which is why the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is reminding Washington residents and hunters alike about its private lands access program.

Why wild turkeys are in the Pacific Northwest

The wild turkey is not native to the Pacific Northwest - in fact, they come from the southern and eastern United States. They were introduced to this area first in the 1960s, when the turkey was threatened by over-hunting and cutting forests.

The National Wild Turkey Federation, which was founded in 2012, has been dedicated to the conservation of this species not just as a part of the American ecosystem, but as a source of hunted game. The organization has promoted policies across the United States, including in Washington, to help open over 600,000 acres of land for turkey hunting.

An aggressive turkey cock.

How turkeys become an urban nuisance

Wild turkeys have a preference for habitat that overlaps with human communities. Like coyotes, turkeys can thrive in urban areas. Many people will at first become enamored with the wild birds and provide them food, which in turn leads to turkeys becoming more comfortable with humans.

What those people don't realize is that turkeys are destructive and aggressive birds. Wild turkeys are known for attacking reflective options such as windows and shiny cars, and roosting on rooves where they leave behind feathers and droppings. Turkeys will seek food aggressively, tearing up gardens, fields, and haystacks.

Turkeys can also be quite hostile, even if they start out seeming friendly or tame. Male turkeys especially are known to attack children and pets in their territory, but turkeys will even attack adults when seeking food. Some organizations with roaming wildfowl, like zoos, often have to "lock up" their turkeys because visitor feeding leads to outright aggression.

A fully plumed male turkey in a field and a map of the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge.
US Fish and Wildlife Service / Google (Map)

Eastern Washington is seeking turkey hunters

WDFW notes that counties in "Eastern Region 1," that is, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman, are experiencing higher amounts of property damage than usual lately due to wild turkeys. Spokane has even talked about its aggressive turkeys on Reddit.

WDFW's turkey trouble solution is its private lands access program. This program is designed to connect private land owners with hunters in order to allow game hunting on otherwise inaccessible land. There are several kinds of access that property owners can grant to hunters, ranging from "Feel Free to Hunt" to requiring written permission from hunters entering the land.

The Columbia Plateau Wildlife Management Association and Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge are two large regions which are available through the private lands access program. Hunters are encouraged to review the private lands hunting page to locate areas nearest to them. A small game hunting license is required for turkey shooting.

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