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Turkey tale: How the big birds have pecked their way into campus legend

November 20, 2017

By Dan White

It’s not your imagination. The turkeys have multiplied.

Noisy gaggles of wild turkeys have claimed UC Santa Cruz as their home turf. Now they are roosting in Douglas firs and redwoods, stampeding through fields, breeding with reckless abandon, and blocking roads with total indifference.

“Turkeys run the campus,” one student posted. Another student mentioned that he’d called his mother, who was visiting campus, and informed her that he couldn’t get out because a “turkey” was blocking his car. The confused mother, believing that her son was referring to a fellow student as a “turkey,” scolded him for his rudeness. “No need to call people names!” she told him.

The turkeys cause plenty of hilarity and drama on campus, with students filming videos of elaborate mating rituals going on outside McHenry Library or posting updates on Instagram about noisy encounters with the prehistoric-looking creatures.

But for all of their entertainment value at UC Santa Cruz, these birds are also the subject of some pressing questions from staff and faculty members wondering about their impacts to biodiversity on campus. Is their population getting out of control, and what is their impact on local wildlife?

“I had a half serious conversation with a few others about radio-collaring some of the turkeys to get a better picture of where they’re going and perhaps what they’re eating,” said Chris Lay, curator of UC Santa Cruz’s Kenneth Norris Center for Natural History. “It’s likely they’re significantly impacting some populations of small- to medium-sized critters on the campus.”

They also have a taste for agriculture. Sky DeMuro, an apprenticeship instructor for UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, reports that turkeys are “a problem in the Alan Chadwick Garden—cute, but eating crops and disturbing beds with their dust baths.”

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