Living with Wild Turkeys on Seabrook Island

One of the joys of living here on Seabrook Island is the opportunity to observe and appreciate a wide array of fish and wildlife species. But one of the unintended consequences of this endeavor is that some of our wildlife species lose their natural fear of people.

As with all wildlife, providing food in residential areas like Seabrook can attract wild turkeys and they can become a public safety threat to you and your neighbors. Never feed wildlife, because it encourages them to lose their natural fear of people. Once that natural fear is removed, wildlife, including wild turkeys, can act aggressively. And once that aggressive behavior is established, it is difficult if not impossible to change.

So what are some of the problems? Wild turkeys have been known to respond aggressively to shiny objects, and peck at windows, auto mirrors, or their own reflections in shiny surfaces. Turkeys have pecking orders and may attempt to dominate or attack people that they view as subordinate. This behavior is typically observed in the fall when young birds begin to compete with older members of the flock. Here on Seabrook Island, this kind of behavior has been seen in the early spring as well.

If you encounter wild turkeys on the Island and it appears they have lost their fear of people, then “hazing” them can be beneficial. Chase the birds without making contact while waving your arms clapping and yelling; making loud noises using an air horn or banging pots and pans; spraying them with a strong water jet from a hose; waving or swatting with a broom or stick; opening a large umbrella while facing them, or allowing a large dog on a leash to bark and scare them can be effective hazing methods. We need to remind these birds that humans are the apex predators on the Island, and re-establish their normal fear of humans. Aggressive hazing techniques applied consistently will usually deter aggressive turkey behavior.

It is also important to document these incidents of aggressive behavior. Please notify SIPOA Security of the time and location of aggressive turkey behavior. Also note the date, time, and location on the SIPOA Wildlife reporting form found here.

Wild turkeys that are continually aggressive towards people and do not respond to aggressive hazing techniques may have to be lethally removed.  It is important for all residents and visitors to Seabrook Island that they feel safe and secure as they enjoy riding and walking along our roadways and trails.

The wild turkey is native to North America. It was the largest ground-nesting bird discovered by the first European immigrants.  Early accounts marveled about the abundance of wild turkeys, but populations rapidly declined with colonization and deforestation. One of the first and most successful wildlife restoration efforts began in the 1930s and by the 1960s the restoration of wild turkeys throughout the US was one of the best comeback stories in wildlife management.

Five subspecies of native wild turkey exist in North America but the subspecies found here in the South Carolina Lowcountry are the Eastern wild turkey. Males have dark iridescent plumage, bare necks and heads with pink and blue streaks, fan-shaped tails tipped with chestnut, and black-barred flight feathers. Males also have a “beard,” a tuft of hair-like feathers protruding from the breast, and thick sharp “spurs” on their legs. Females look similar to the males but lack the spurs and most do not have a “beard.” Adult birds weigh between 12 and 25 pounds and can attain a height of 36 inches.  Breeding occurs in the spring, and courtship behavior includes strutting and gobbling by the males to attract the female birds.

Keep wild turkeys wild by never feeding them.

Enjoy the opportunity to observe and appreciate all the beauty that living on Seabrook Island affords to both residents and visitors, but please, let’s keep our resident wildlife wild!

-Submitted by Jaime Geiger, Chairman SIPOA Environmental Committee

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