Once on the brink of extinction, the wild turkey is multiplying so fast and adapting so well that it is now a major headache for suburban homeowners and a very real traffic danger.
"The turkeys were an interesting curiosity until they pretty much destroyed my new landscaping job while I was away on vacation," said Lesley Prentice, who spent thousands of dollars to repair damage at her home in Alamo.
Wild turkeys -- tougher, leaner and smarter than the highly-bred birds, mass-produced for the typical Thanksgiving dinner -- are scratching, pecking and smashing plants, crops, lawns and golf courses in suburbs statewide.
And wildlife experts say Bay Area and Sacramento area cities are at the epicenter of turkey trouble.
Half a century after the wild turkey was introduced to California from Texas and Colorado, biologists say their numbers and conflicts with humans are growing in residential areas near woodlands, natural parks and other open spaces.
"I like animals. I like nature, but I'm upset about the damage that a flock of these very big birds can do when they descend on your home and yard" said Prentice, who said there are dozens of the birds -- reaching up to 20 pounds -- that strut through her neighborhood.
Experts estimate there are about 6 million wild turkeys in 49 states -- and about 18 percent of California now has turkeys.
A state biologist said turkey populations are leveling off in rural and wilderness
"Wild turkeys are moving into our urban areas, and finding it a very welcoming environment," said Scott Gardner of the state Department of Fish and Game.
Residential areas near open spaces have it all -- food, water, trees for roosting and protection from mountain lions and coyotes that are reluctant to go near homes.
One of the bitterest complaints of homeowners is the turkey poop problem.
In Portola Valley, Cindy Cuhna wasn't so fond of a family of wild turkeys after the babies grew up and the birds pecked away and killed her ground cover and her showy blue pride of Madeira flowers.
"As they matured, so did the problems," Cuhna wrote in an email. Their favorite place to poop was on top of her new Lexus.
Wild turkeys are adding danger to the road, too. Craig Elstins, 51, an experienced bicyclist from Benicia, died last month from injuries sustained when he crashed on a Martinez rural road after a flock of turkeys ran in front of him. Elstins was wearing a helmet and cycling a familiar route with friends.
"Craig was the kind of guy people went to for advice on how to ride a tricky turn or hill," said Greg Andrada, a friend on the fatal ride. "It was a nightmare."
Last year in Walnut Creek, a motorcyclist crashed on Interstate 680 when a flying turkey hit him. The rider survived.
In a survey of Bay Area News Group readers published last month, columnist Joan Morris got reports of wild turkeys from throughout the Bay Area. Many readers reported damage, others said they had no problems and some even began calling their local turkeys by name -- like "Drumstick."
Adding to the urban conflicts, some people feed turkeys, making them less afraid of people and bolder about invading yards and roofs.
"If you really care about wild turkeys, you won't feed them because you are making them into a nuisance and putting them into a situation where they may be killed," said Gardner of Fish and Game.
If a wild turkey invades your yard, experts advise shooing it away, spraying it with a water hose or waving an umbrella at it. Dogs can frighten off the birds as well.
In response to increasing complaints, Fish and Game issues about 100 depredation permits annually that allow people to kill turkeys that damage property.
Human hunters consider wild turkey a prize because of its good taste and lean, low cholesterol meat, but there are local restrictions on firing guns near houses, said Phil Martinelli, a veteran hunter from Alamo. He drives out of the area to shoot a wild turkey to be served at his Thanksgiving dinner.
Turkey-vs.-people conflicts also are common in many states where the birds are expanding into residential areas near open spaces, said Bob Ericksen, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation.
He said that after wild turkeys expand into a new area, their population typically takes off fast and then levels off after about 20 years.
In the late 1800s, the outlook for survival of the wild turkey in this nation looked bleak because of over-hunting and habitat destruction. But now, helped by hunting limits, conservation protections and introduction of wild turkeys into old areas or new ones like California, the population is strong.
"Frankly," Ericksen said. "wild turkeys are doing much better than we would have expected."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-82431.