Wild turkey sightings on the rise in the East Bay

EAST BAY, Calif. (KTVU) - The call of the wild can be heard in the city – and it sounds a lot like a turkey gobble!

"Where can you find wild turkeys? Everywhere," said Douglas Bell, a Wildlife Program Manager at East Bay Regional Parks. "I've seen turkeys in downtown Berkeley, on freeways in Oakland. It's really surprising where they are!"

It seems there's a wild turkey sighting nearly everywhere you go in the Bay Area. "They're almost like the Elvis's of the bird world," laughed Bell.

Wild turkeys are native to California. They were once extinct, but were reintroduced decades ago as a game bird. Now they flourish, with an estimated population of a quarter of a million birds statewide.

"We offer everything to them," Bell explained. "There are fewer predators in the suburbs and in the urban environment, and yet there's still a lot of food around."

The best way to keep wild turkeys wild and out of neighborhoods is not to leave food out for them.

The birds are regular visitors at the Village Market on Broadway Terrace in Oakland. "They'll just walk right on by," said manager, Freddy Siri. "They're on their own agenda and you're just kinda there."

Siri said he's seen an increasing number of wild turkeys in the area for the past 11 years. "There used to be mountain lions up there, but they're gone," Siri said. With fewer predators around "the turkeys have been surviving and actually thriving in that group up there," Siri explained. "They're quite comfortable!"

Not everyone is comfortable with wild turkeys in their neighborhoods. The Department of Fish and Wildlife and local parks departments have had an increasing number of complaints about birds fouling yards and being aggressive.

"They like to just walk down the street and they're quite stubborn and they look at you," Jean Wagner said. She sees them outside her home in Alameda. "I think they flew and got lost somewhere," she said laughing. But Wagner doesn't laugh when she encounters the birds on her street "because they look aggressive to me."

The Village Market workers said the wild turkey neighbors don't bother them, and they're around every day but one. "Thanksgiving," laughed Siri. "And I have no idea why. They don't have a calendar!"