Ottawa Citizen

Liv­ing with tur­keys


It be­gan in late Novem­ber with a phone call to Ot­tawa po­lice, some­one re­port­ing trou­ble in Bar­rhaven. A gang was rov­ing the streets. A gang of wild tur­keys.

Or, as po­lice later clar­i­fied, a rafter of wild tur­keys. Who knew that we in ur­ban Ot­tawa would ever need to know the proper col­lec­tive noun for th­ese birds?

Calls kept coming in through De­cem­ber. Just be­fore Christ­mas, po­lice fi­nally asked peo­ple to stop phon­ing. They had fielded 20 calls by this point, and knew there were tur­keys. The ques­tion is, what were they sup­posed to do about it? Open fire? Clearly not. And any less lethal ac­tion just works tem­po­rar­ily, be­cause the birds came back.

That’s not all. Peo­ple call the po­lice when they see a coy­ote, as well. One woman who sent the Cit­i­zen a photo of a coy­ote near her Alta Vista home de­scribed phon­ing City Hall to take ac­tion. The staffer there told her to call po­lice, and even­tu­ally a cruiser showed up, drove around and found noth­ing.

Ot­tawa has been through waves of im­mi­gra­tion, and now we’re see­ing two new ones, tur­keys and coy­otes. Th­ese an­i­mals are not oc­ca­sional ar­rivals such as the odd bear or moose, and they’re less haz­ardous than a bear or moose loose in the city.

The coy­otes are na­tive; the tur­keys aren’t really. They are a hy­brid from U.S. sources, im­ported in the 1980s and 1990s to please hunters be­cause na­tive wild tur­keys — nat­u­rally shy birds of the deep for­est — were wiped out. The point is, coy­otes and wild tur­keys are part of the ur­ban land­scape now, just as much as squir­rels.

In the 1800s, some­one would have trapped or shot them and the turkey-coy­ote con­tro­versy would have ended with cran­berry sauce or a fur-lined hat. But to­day gun­fire in the city is il­le­gal. Ev­ery­one ex­cept the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion can be glad of this.

The plain truth is that our city con­tin­ues to change as it al­ways has, and we have to adapt. That means treat­ing coy­otes and tur­keys with care, as both are wild an­i­mals that we shouldn’t feed, but that’s all we need to do.

And while we’re at it, let’s stop pan­ick­ing days in ad­vance about each snowfall. We don’t have to play along when Amer­i­can TV sta­tions scream about snow­maged­dons. Snow, like tur­keys and coy­otes, is nat­u­ral here and we can han­dle it.

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