Elmwood turkeys netted and relocated
Birds released on state wildlife refuge
GRAFTON – The wild turkey population in Grafton has been a source of entertainment for some and an annoyance for others over the past few years.
On Monday and Tuesday, North Dakota Game and Fish (NDGF) employees were in town with the goal of reducing the turkey population and relieving some of the problems the large birds have been causing.
Grafton Parks and Recreation Director Bill Dahl said the turkeys have been a nuisance around the historic Elmwood property leaving their excrement behind in massive proportions.
“Last winter was probably the largest gathering of turkeys we’ve seen around Elmwood and the largest amount of damage they’ve done due to the mess they leave behind,” he said.
He said last winter the Elmwood board planned to have the porch replaced and there was concern over the damage the turkeys would cause. New cedar decking was installed on the porch this summer.
Dahl said he first began contacting NDGF about what could be done with the nuisance birds about a year ago.
One option was to hold a special archery hunt during turkey hunting season. Dahl said the idea was brought up to some city officials, but that idea didn’t fly because of safety concerns.
With the help of NDGF, the park district tried to scare the birds away using sirens connected to motion detectors. Dahl said that was attempted over a short period of time last winter. However, the scare tactics didn’t work, but instead drew several complaints from residents who live just across the river.
“The sirens were annoying the neighbors much more than they were bothering the turkeys,” he said. “We were getting reports of the sirens going off at three in the morning. The deer were setting them off, because the turkeys were already roosting in the trees.”
The final alternative was to have the birds trapped and relocated by game and fish personnel.
For the past year, Dahl has been working closely with the Devils Lake office of NDGF and biologist Brian Prince.
Prince said they offered help based on the request by GPR.
“You have a situation where the turkeys are causing damage to this historic building, yet on the other hand right across the river people are feeding them, and they like seeing them around,” he said. “It’s kinda of a love/hate thing, some people want them around and others don’t.”
Prince said wild turkeys can survive in northeastern North Dakota but more often than not they need a little assistance in the way of food and cover to make it through the winter.
“That’s why they’re here,” he said. “And it all comes down to tolerance.”
The first step to trapping the birds was to begin baiting them on the Elmwood grounds to get them used to congregating in a concentrated location. He said the flock of turkeys that have been gathering around Elmwood this winter is estimated to be around 100 birds.
Dahl said with feed supplied by NDGF, he began baiting the birds just after Thanksgiving.
He said the birds got very used to the daily offerings and it wasn’t uncommon to see 60 to 80 birds at each feeding.
Each day around 11 a.m., he deposited a five gallon pail of feed including scratch grain and cracked corn. He said the birds got so used to him that they would fly to the feeding area when they saw his truck coming each day.
NDGF technicians Tom Crutchfield and Jim Houston based in Bismarck arrived Monday with two nets and explosive powered rockets meant to propel the nets over the birds as they are feeding. Prince came from Devils Lake with two more technicians to help capture and band the birds prior to relocating them.
One of the birds was to be released if captured and that is the white turkey that has been seen with the flock. Dahl said the white turkey has become somewhat of a celebrity in town and was to be released if captured.
“I was contacted by several people who were concerned about what would happen to the white one if it was taken away,” Dahl said. “It’s my understanding that the bird would be put down if it was captured because they didn’t want it in the relocated wild population.”
About 30 birds showed up to feed on Monday, much less than normal and the crew decided to wait until Tuesday morning to spring their trap.
They left the nets in place but removed the explosive charges to the rockets and returned Tuesday before daylight to set up.
Around 8:30 a.m., they fired the charges. According to Crutchfield, the rockets for one of the nets misfired and several of the turkeys managed to fly away.
In all about 25 turkeys were captured according to Prince. He said the white turkey was captured and released as requested.
The rest of the birds were banded and then taken to an 8,000-plus acre wildlife refuge in Rollette County near Dunseith where they were released.
Prince said that the birds are stressed by the capture but most usually survive. He said every once in a while a bird might be struck by the rocket net just right and not make it.
“It’s not an exact science, but it’s the best method we have available,” Prince said.
All of the birds netted Tuesday survived the initial capture.
Dahl said they were hoping to capture between 50 and 60 percent of the flock. He said the plans are to continue to feed the birds and the game and fish crew will return in a couple of weeks to try for another capture.
Dahl said the trapping and relocation of the turkeys isn’t costing GPR or the city any money, that cost is paid for by NDGF.