Saturday, January 21, 2006

When Turkeys Invade a Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

Birdhouses and feeders are a common sight in and around our garden and yard. We feed all through the winter months, and living in a Snow Belt area, the birds are busy visitors even on the coldest, snowiest days. We also have the occasional squirrel, and in years past, we had a large flock of wild turkeys. The turkeys that visited were always destructive, and they would leave a mess in the garden beneath the feeders, as they dug for seeds and bugs. When we rearranged the layout of our garden and yard a few years ago, we considered this and tried to make our yard as unattractive to these large birds as we could.

We placed the one feeder that they seemed to gravitate towards on a small platform base to catch the excess seeds that would fall as the small birds ate, to keep them off the ground. We always take the time to clean up any spills that might occur at our other feeders, and all of the feeders were moved in slightly towards the house, so that we could enjoy the small birds as they fed more conveniently, even during the cold winter months. We figured that the hustle and bustle of the daily going-ons at the house would help keep the turkeys away. We also put obstacles in the pathways they used to enter the yard from the back wooded area they came in from. This all seemed to have a positive effect on the situation through last year, the first year that everything was moved. Then this past fall, they started coming again, a flock of twenty-five turkeys and a smaller group of three.

They not only brazenly walk right up towards the house; they fly up onto the feeders as if they are small birds. In all the other years turkeys came, I never once saw one land on a regular sized bird feeder. These do, and they are destructive, they have torn the wood off the base of the one feeder, and pecked or torn a whole right through the wire of another. Our snow cover is not deep this year. Most often, the month of January will arrive with a few storms dropping quite a load of snow, but a couple of dustings and one moderate snow is all we have experienced. This has also allowed the turkeys to continue their digging. Yesterday I walked outside onto our small back porch only to realize that there was a hen settled up against the side of the house. She had found a spot close to the basement wall where there was still dirt showing and had scratched it all up and made herself a dry spot to rest. She looked at me and slowly stood up and wandered back to the feeders where several more turkeys were enjoying a snack at my benefit. Looking around the yard, I realized they had all been busy digging up any spot they could still see dirt through the snow cover, and this included several areas around plantings, including a row of bulbs that I had moved this fall. The bulbs were now scattered about where one of the turkeys had scratched them all up. With the low amounts of snowfall, the ground has not frozen in most areas either, and in this instance, it made it easy for the turkey to dig these bulbs up.

I am continuing what has turned into a battle to get these turkeys to leave my yard, and in the meantime, I am starting to wonder what this mild winter with the help of a yard full of digging, scratching, and destructive turkeys is going to leave me to find come spring when the snow eventually melts away. I already know I am down one complete row of bulbs and a partial section of small plants in a tiered garden we have, as several more turkeys had taken to scratching up and resting in it by yesterday afternoon. The sun always shines on an area of it, and no snow has been able to build up there. Our dogs are as fed up with the whole situation as we are, and they spend a good part of the day barking and even chasing. Even that has not deterred these turkeys. My husband suggested not filling the feeders, and we did change the feed to mostly wild bird food instead of the favored black sunflower seed, but I am not ready to starve the small birds to spite the big ones. The battle will continue, and I hope that I can come back and tell you I won, and my garden and other plants have survived. Only time will tell though!

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