Wild turkeys are thriving across California, but as the climate warms habitats like Sacramento may not be able to sustain the invasive species that people either hate or love.
“People are seeing them more often in places where they might not think a turkey would live,” said Peter Tira, an information officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “During the drought there were very few natural resources out on the wild landscape. Water was hard to find, food was hard to find and turkeys kind of moved into the cities and suburbs.”
Even though wild turkeys are flourishing, where turkeys live may change as the globe warms. It’s not that they’ll go extinct, but some of the habitat they currently live in won’t be suitable for them. Still, some experts don’t see them leaving the suburban homes they’ve come to enjoy just because of climate change.
A Shrinking Range
Tira says presently wild turkey numbers are expanding, although CDFW doesn’t count turkeys, and can be found in ecosystems and cities from Mexico to the Oregon border.
“They’re incredibly adaptable,” he said. “They have found much of California to their liking and they can live in all different kinds of habitats.”
The five species of turkeys that exist in California today were introduced into the state beginning in 1877 as game birds by ranchers, but there are some fossil records of turkeys from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
As the climate warms it just might be too hot for the birds. And the habitat they rely on — like trees and wooded areas — could be suffering as well, says Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation for Audubon California.
“Our models have predicted turkeys moving into Northern California, and we’ve just seen massive, unprecedented fires in Northern California. And that’s going to impact turkeys,” she said.
Last year Audubon modeled how turkeys and other birds will fare under three different climate warming scenarios — if the world warms 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees Celsius.
“Our models are predicting a 19% range loss,” she said. “A lot of that is associated with urban areas like San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and also the very edges of the Central Valley up into the foothills.”
For the birds, each scenario likely means less water, food and fewer places to live because of the effects of climate change: drought, wildfire, extreme rain events, and flooding.
“So they’ll march up into the foothills, they’ll march to the coast and they’ll head north,” she said. “This would be a process over a number of years.”
Besides wildfire, one effect of climate change on turkey habitat Jones is worried about is heat waves because eggs can’t be exposed to hot temperatures for long periods of time.
“If temperatures get too hot a turkey can only keep eggs cool for so long and they need to come and go from their nests to forage,” she said.
California Turkeys Will Likely Trot North As Climate Warms, But May Not Leave Th…