Tom not-so-terrific: Non-native turkeys spotted around peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ed Marker, and his wife Roxanne, are familiar with the sight of birds hanging around the feeder near their home off the Kenai Spur Highway, between Kenai and Soldotna, but some recent visitors caught the couple completely by surprise.

Photo Courtesy Of Ed And Roxanne Marker
Photo Courtesy Of Ed And Roxanne Marker
These feral turkeys are two of several that began showing up earlier this month at the home of Ed and Roxanne Marker. The Markers live off of the Kenai Spur Highway, between Kenai and Soldotna, and they said the turkeys have been drawn to sunflower seeds from their bird feeder.

"The first time I saw them I had just glanced out the window at dusk. I shouted to my wife 'Get the camera. There's some weird birds in the yard,'" Marker said.

Upon closer inspection, Marker deduced the large birds with the long legs and red heads were turkeys.

"It's odd to see them since they're not indigenous. They must have been accidentally or intentionally released," Marker said.

At least three turkeys have been present each time Marker has seen them, and they show up at his feeder several times a week.

"There's both males and females. I can tell because the males are larger and have bright red protrusions on the neck. The sixth of April is when they first appeared and we've seen them about every three days since then. They come and eat the sunflower seeds that have fallen to the ground," he said.

Unlike farm-raised turkeys that have been altered to have huge breasts and thighs, and subsequently have lost the ability to fly, the turkeys that have been showing up at Marker's home are still fleet of feather when startled.

"They fly like they are shot out of a cannon," he said.

As to where the birds may have come from, Marker said he's not quite sure.

"Two to three years ago I saw a flock of about 20 to 30 turkeys off of Funny River Road, and they were similar in appearance to these. As the turkey flies that's only about 15 miles from here, so maybe some flew over, over the last couple of years," he said.

Since turkeys are not indigenous to Alaska, they are considered a feral, non-native game bird and can be killed on site by a licensed hunter if they are in an area where it is safe and legal to discharge a firearm, according to Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna.

"It's not illegal to own them, but it is illegal to release them into the wild, so turkeys that aren't caged and not under the direct control of their owner, can be harvested. There's no limit and no closed season," Lewis said.

The reason for this law is to ensure that feral animals don't establish themselves and out-compete native species -- such as grouse -- that may occupy a similar niche, or possibly pass avian diseases on to native wildlife.

"People don't think about the long-term effects, but it's the same for pheasants and chukars and all these other feral, non-native species people are letting loose. People doing it have been, and will be, cited for it," Lewis said.

However, Marker said even though he could legally do it, he won't be making an early Thanksgiving Day meal out of his visitors.

"I expect there's enough predators around here, a lynx or a coyote will get them sooner than later," he said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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