To catch a flocking bird

November 23, 2018

Turkeys soon won’t be able to catch the gravy train to freedom when Douglas County’s turkey catcher gets to work rounding up nuisance turkeys in area neighborhoods, catching as many as 300 birds and relocating them in a three-month window.

“It’s a pretty big effort for that three-month period,” said Tod Lum, a district wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Roseburg.

The birds are caught in a “rocket” net during the winter months, when it’s cold and they congregate in large flocks.

After the turkeys are caught, they’re individually banded, boxed and taken out in trailers to public land in the county or moved to other parts of the state.

If the birds are moved to other districts, biologists have to draw blood to make sure they don’t have any diseases.

Roseburg has the highest density of turkeys in the state, with more than 16 birds per square mile, according to ODFW.

Lum said that’s because of the oak woodland habitat in the region that the birds enjoy.

Residents aren’t allowed to hunt turkeys within city limits, and the birds can become a nuisance loitering on people’s property.

“We hear about it because a neighbor complains, and usually the source is that they’re being fed,” Lum said.

He said there are people who intentionally feed the birds and those who inadvertently do it by not cleaning their bird feeders.

“They’re being drawn to something, and maybe on the way they’re lingering in yards and on properties,” Lum said.

“As the sun comes up, they come down from the trees where they’re roosting, hit the ground, and they’re on a mission. They go from bird feeder to bird feeder, and then they spend the day loafing,” he added.

Lum said the turkey catcher has to prioritize which calls they’re going to respond to based on the size of the property and the number of birds there.

Lum said deploying a net costs around $100, which is paid for through Oregon turkey hunting tags.

“(Hunters) are footing the bill on a lot of the turkeys we’re catching in town, and a lot of folks may not even hunt,” Lum said.

The nets are also loud, causing windows to rattle and a cloud of smoke to go up.

Lum said despite calling the fire and police departments before they net the birds, people still call the dispatch line wondering if a bomb went off.

About the trapping program in the county, Lum said, “It’s kind of a blessing; it’s also a curse.”

It’s good, because they’re able to remove problem birds, and bad because most Oregon counties don’t have that option.

Instead, some cities turn to wildlife-feeding bans to keep animals from congregating on residential property, spreading disease and attracting predators.

Earlier this year, the Eugene City Council passed a ban on intentionally feeding certain wildlife and storing food or garbage in a way that could attract them.

Lum said the best way to keep the turkeys from becoming a problem is to stop feeding them.

“Remove the attraction; keep those birds wild,” Lum said.

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