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Wild turkeys walk along a fence in Jacksonville, where the feeding of wildlife has been banned. Medford may consider following suit to deal with the growing nuisance of turkeys. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

Talking turkey

At first a single wild turkey showing up in an east Medford yard could be seen as a cute addition to urban life, then someone breaks out the bread crumbs and now you have an entire neighborhood grousing over gobblers.

That lone turkey invites 24 of his family and friends that start digging up flowerbeds, laying landmines on sidewalks and tearing up shingles with their sharp talons as they roost on roofs to the delight of a few but the chagrin of the majority.

"It's just like, 'If you build it, they will come,' " Medford City Manager Pro Tem Bill Hoke says. "If you feed them, they will stay."

Growing turkey problems have enough Medford residents crying fowl that city leaders are starting to talk turkey while trying to reduce or rid the city of this slice of urban wildlife that creates more nuisance complaints annually.

With hunting or trapping-and-relocating not legal options, city officials expect to look at all open avenues, including whether to join Ashland, Jacksonville and Shady Cove in the growing list of Jackson County towns that ban feeding of some or all wild animals.

"I assume that could be an option," says Hoke, who asked Medford Police Department code enforcers to draft a report on the issue. "Other communities have dome similar things."

The Medford City Council has not yet scheduled any turkey-management discussions, but at least one Medford gated community isn't going to wait for that to happen.

Gary Bonner and other residents of the Sun Oaks community off Black Oak Drive are so tired of their turkey conundrum that Bonner says he will ask the community's board for a turkey-feeding ban.

The Sun Oaks flock has been known to tear up roofs and harass pets to a point that last year some residents of the 122-home community played barking dog apps on their smartphones to help shoo the brazen birds away.

"I certainly don't want them here, but my neighbor next door feeds them," Bonner says. "They are absolutely a pain, and we have got to get rid of these critters."

Wild turkeys are a wildlife transplant success story that, at least for some, has run amok.

State wildlife biologists in 1975 shipped in crates of Rio Grande turkeys from Texas and released the birds in the foothills east of Medford in the biological equivalent of throwing spaghetti at a wall to see whether it would stick.

Unlike the Merriam's turkeys released decades before, the Rio Grande turkeys thrived in the oak savannas, eventually creating large flocks of birds that helped seed populations now present in all 36 Oregon counties.

Turkeys are one of Oregon's most problematic wild critters in residential areas, with their sharp spurs hacking up gardens and rooftops while their perpetual excrement sullies lawns and decks.

"Some people love the turkeys, some people hate them," says Mark Vargas, Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "People in the middle tolerate them."

For the intolerant who happen to live outside of city limits, getting rid of problem turkeys is easy, particularly during hunting season. Invite a camo-clad hunter over to shoot a tom turkey and put the fear of Remington in the rest.

Inside the city of Medford, however, the options shrink dramatically. The discharge of BB and air-soft guns, let alone a shotgun, is banned.

Vargas typically first offers landowners a free hazing permit to scare the birds away with garden hoses or loud noises. If that doesn't work, he can issue a kill permit for the landowner or his or her appointed agent to kill it, salvage the meat and donate it to charity, Vargas says.

"Some people don't mind it," Vargas says. "Others will be appalled that we even offer the option."

A licensed trapper acting as the landowner's agent can trap and kill urban turkeys, but turkeys are notoriously smart and trap-wary.

Vargas says he would support Medford enacting a don't-feed-the-turkeys ordinance.

Other cities such as Dallas and Lebanon have agreements that allow their police officers to kill nuisance birds.

Bonner suggests Medford take it a step farther.

"They ought to have a day you can shoot them," Bonner says. "But that isn't going to happen."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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