Ottawa

Turkey trouble: Outaouais farmers say birds are gobbling up their livelihood

An Outaouais farmers' union wants to expand the wild turkey hunt to stop the hungry birds from wreaking havoc on their crops.

Wild turkeys run rampant in the Outaouais — but could a hunt reduce their numbers?

Wild turkeys were introduced to the Outaouais nearly two decades ago. Their population numbers are now so high that farmers in western Quebec say they're being overwhelmed — with some even switching to crops less appealing to the birds. (Jim Martin)

Wild turkeys are wreaking havoc on western Quebec's farms, leading to calls for better control of the hungry birds' population.

The Union of Agricultural Producers (UAP) says wild turkeys have been causing more and more trouble as their population grows.

"We want to find a solution, find a way to control them without exterminating them," said Stéphane Alary, UAP vice-president for the Outaouais-Laurentian region.

A farmer himself, Alary said he lost two tons of wheat a few years ago when turkeys ate their way through 10 per cent of his 20-acre field.  

Some farmers are abandoning grain production in favour of other crops, he said, rather than lose profits to the turkeys' appetites.

One solution to the problem, Alary said, could be expanding hunting allowances — or even pairing hunters with grain producers and allowing a second hunting season in the fall at harvest time. 

Stéphane Alary, with the Union of Agricultural Producers, says there needs to be a way to control wild turkey populations. 0:36

Richard Brûlé, who lives in Bowman, Que., is calling for an increase in hunting quotas. Currently, a hunter can kill two male turkeys during the hunting season, which runs from April 26 to May 17 this year. 

Brûlé said between 20 and 25 wild turkeys frequently visit his yard, attracted by the food he leaves out for the deer. 

"It's beautiful to see, but it's a nuisance," he said in a French-language interview.

The birds venture all the way to his front door, he said, leaving a trail of feces behind them. 

Good breeding season, tough winter

Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks has gotten more reports of wild turkeys this year than in past years, said biologist André Dumont, who manages large wildlife for the department.

While there isn't an exact count of wild turkeys in the Outaouais, he said the population is considered to be increasing, with between 10,000 and 15,000 making their home in the area. 

"We had a very good breeding season last year, but this year, the winter has been difficult for turkeys," Dumont said.

Heavy snowfall has driven wild turkeys closer to highways and homes, Dumont said, where there are bird feeders and other sources of food.  

Farmers in the Outaouais are calling for better control of wild turkey populations, claiming the birds damage crops and harm profits. (Submitted by Jean-Philippe Larocque)

'The turkeys have to go somewhere'

It's not just Outaouais residents who've had run-ins with the birds. From terrorizing a Barrhaven retirement home to running around the downtown core, wild turkeys are a frequent sight in Ottawa as well. 

Anouk Hoedeman, founder of Safe Wings Ottawa, said this year's snowfall and freezing rain may have prevented turkeys from finding seeds and other food on the ground. 

"If there's a lot of snow or really hard snow that's covering up their food source, they're going to have a harder time with that," she said. 

Hoedeman said wild turkeys are active now because it's their breeding season — but there are other reasons people are seeing more and more of their feathered neighbours. 

"We're taking over a lot of their habitat," she said. "As a lot of rural areas and forested areas are being turned into housing developments, the turkeys have to go somewhere."

Anouk Hoedeman of Safe Wings Ottawa says as people encroach on the natural habitat of the wild turkey, they'll have more encounters with the bird. (CBC)

'We cannot control the population'

Since the introduction of a regular hunting season in Quebec, the number of permits issued yearly has increased steadily, from just over 2,000 licences for the first hunt in 2008 to almost 18,000 in 2018. 

According to Jean-Philippe Larocque, owner of Pourvoirie de la Lièvre, a hunting camp in Bowman, Que., the hunt has become more and more popular since 2008, nearly eight years after the bird was introduced to the area. 

The number of birds killed by hunting has increased as well, from 976 to 1,398 between 2014 and 2018. 

Allowing archery in some rural areas, including in Ontario, could help keep turkey populations under control where the bird doesn't have predators, Larocque said — but relying on nature would be his preferred method. 

Dumont said the provincial ministry may consider more intensive hunting by allowing females to be hunted or increasing quotas.

But the effects of such measures, he said, would be minimal. 

"Hunting would never succeed in reducing turkey populations," said Dumont. "The turkey population regulates itself, depending on harsh winters or spring nesting conditions. We cannot control the population of wild turkeys."

With files from Florence Ngué-No and Leah Hansen

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