Shared from the 12/29/2020 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

Fowl play: Turkeys at home in Albany


A woman snaps a photo of wild turkeys wandering through the University Village shopping center on Monroe Street in Albany.

Photos by Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

Packs of wild turkeys, known as rafters, have taken up residence in Albany and wander streets and yards.

Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

A man passes wild turkeys wandering through the University Village shopping center in Albany last month. The birds have become the unofficial mascots of Albany despite frequently blocking traffic.

On several occasions, Sarah Pontell, an Albany resident who trains for marathons and half marathons, has been out running when she encountered an unruly gang — of turkeys.

“I have had literal ‘run-ins’ with them on my hill runs,” she said. “Turned a corner and tripped over one, came away with two bloody knees.”

Lately, for Pontell and many others in Albany, every day is feeling like turkey day.

Packs of wild turkeys roam the streets of Albany daily, often clogging traffic in the busy intersection of Marin and San Pablo avenues during the evening commute. They’re also known to hang out at McDonald’s or Starbucks, like many of the small city’s human residents.

The turkeys venture into people’s yards, too, flying onto roofs, perching atop fences and roosting in trees and gardens.

“They plunk down on the mulch between my succulents and make themselves right at home,” said Albany resident Belle Adler. “Sometimes they dig up dirt and mulch and strew it all on the sidewalk, making quite a mess. Still, it’s nice to have a little wildlife around.”

The turkeys have become unofficial city mascots, with photos of a flock featured on the home page of the city’s website. Ocean View Brew Works, a local brewery, is planning to name a beer after the birds.

Most Albany residents seem to share a favorable opinion of the fowl, including Mayor Nick Pilch, interviewed on a corner shortly after 13 turkeys strolled by.

“I’ve only heard nice things about the turkeys,” he said. “Maybe I don’t hear the complaints of people in their cars. They do stop traffic on some of our busiest streets.

But I think people appreciate the turkeys more than they’re bothered by them.”

Alex Shepherd, an animal control officer for Berkeley, said the department, which handles animal control for Albany, gets lots of calls about the gangs of gobblers, especially around the start of the school year when a lot of newcomers arrive in town.

“They’re surprised to see them,” she said. “Especially in an urban area.”

No official or casual count of the turkeys has been taken.

They’ve been around for at least a couple of decades, though their numbers seems to have increased in recent years. The turkeys roam in loosely gathered groups, known as rafters, of anywhere from three or four to a dozen or so. Sometimes they wander into traffic or park themselves in the middle of a street, but they’ve also been known to wait at street corners and cross with the traffic lights or with escorts from residents.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, nobody knows how many turkeys live in California, but they live in about a quarter of the state, including many urban areas. In some locales, conflicts have arisen between people and turkeys. In Oakland, a foul-tempered turkey nicknamed Gerald terrorized visitors to the Morcom Rose Garden before being captured and relocated to Orinda in October.

No one can remember much human-turkey antagonism in Albany in recent years, aside from the occasional cursing and honking of impatient drivers. Years ago, neighbors complained to the City Council that a raucous rafter had taken up residence in a tree and couldn’t be persuaded to leave. After contacting state wildlife officials, the council decided that it couldn’t do anything to get rid of the turkeys. But the birds eventually departed.

More often, the turkeys are a minor annoyance, blocking a road, driveway or fast-food drive-through or just getting in the way.

At the McDonald’s on San Pablo Avenue, the birds have been known to stroll into the loop that serves drive-up customers, temporarily preventing people from ordering their chicken nuggets.

“Sometimes it causes us problems because the cars are not able to move,” said Arianna Solis, a manager at the restaurant. “They won’t leave. They sit down in the center of the parking lot, where we have a little lawn, and they won’t leave before sunset.”

The turkeys have previously frightened customers at a gas station at the intersection of San Pablo and Marin avenues, where an employee has been known to scatter feed in the corner of a parking lot.

“That might explain why a group of them attacked my car at the Shell — so much so that I left without getting gas,” said Andrea Venezia, who lives in Albany. “It was strangely scary.”

Shepherd, the animal control officer, said the station’s owners have been warned not to feed the turkeys — feeding wildlife is against state law — and “may get some unwanted attention from us” if they don’t stop.

Turkeys can be dangerous, Shepherd said, especially if they rake someone with their claws, but in Albany they usually keep their distance, scattering from humans and cars, often darting out of the way at the last second, like in a game of chicken.

Some are occasionally clipped by a car and injured, but there’s little animal control officers can do to help.

“There’s absolutely nothing we can do about any injured turkey,” Shepherd said. “Even if they have a broken wing they won’t let us catch them. They'll fly just out of reach.”

Shepherd said she’s investigated at least one report of well-fed turkeys routinely running in and out of an Albany backyard, where a neighbor suspected they were being kept as pets — or perhaps a future dinner.

She saw the birds leave the house, right on schedule, but never return, perhaps preferring to block traffic or hang out at McDonald’s.

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @ctuan

“They do stop traffic on some of our busiest streets. But I think people appreciate the turkeys more than they’re bothered by them.”
Nick Pilch, Albany mayor

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