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Wild turkey breaks into Quebec long-term care home, a sign of 'exploding' population

MONTREAL — A break-in by a wild turkey at a long-term care home south of Quebec City over the weekend is a sign that the range and population of the birds are expanding in Quebec, bringing them closer to people.
A Quebec regional health authority says no residents were impacted after a wild turkey broke in to a long-term care centre south of Quebec City over the weekend. A wild turkey is shown at the Falardeau Zoo and refuge in Saint-David-de-Falardeau, Que., on Friday, April 7, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL — A break-in by a wild turkey at a long-term care home south of Quebec City over the weekend is a sign that the range and population of the birds are expanding in Quebec, bringing them closer to people.

The wild turkey smashed through the third-floor window of the care home Saturday morning in Beauceville, Que., the local health authority said in an email. The office it entered was empty at the time, and fast-acting staff members at the care home closed the office door to prevent the bird from leaving.

"The bird came to its senses a few minutes later and it left the way it came in," said the health authority for the Chaudière-Appalaches region. "Fortunately, there was no impact for the residents."

It's surprising that a turkey would fly through a window that high, said Tadeusz Splawinski, a biologist with the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation, a conservation group founded by hunters.

"It could just be random bad luck, birds sometimes just fly into windows," he said in an interview Monday. Male turkeys, he added, are known to attack windows, mirrors and other reflective surfaces during the spring mating season because they mistake their reflection for a competitor.

"The males are very hormone-driven during mating season, they're looking for females but they're also competing with other males," Splawinski said. 

Ornithologists are divided over whether wild turkeys ever lived in Quebec before the early 20th century, when the animals went extinct in Canada due to overhunting and habitat loss. But in 1976 the first wild turkey was spotted in Quebec, and since then their numbers have grown.

Between 2003 and 2013, Quebec's Natural Resources Department released 600 wild turkeys into the province; their numbers have further increased by turkey migrations from the United States and Ontario, Splawinski said.

"When I was a kid growing up in the Laurentians, we didn't see any turkeys, in 2013, 2012, we started to see a few of them and within the last 10 years, the population has just exploded," he said, adding that with milder winters, turkeys are expanding further north.

He said they do well in forested environments but can also move into agricultural areas — where they find food on farms — if there are trees for them to roost on. 

The expanding populations are also leading turkeys into urban areas — like Montreal — where they benefit from a lack of predators and hunters, Splawinski said. "They'll start congregating in golf courses, along train tracks, in city parks."

Males often harass people during the spring, he said, adding they can be dangerous to pets and children because they can weigh more than 13 kilograms and have sharp spurs on the back of their legs and sharp beaks. 

In February, a resident armed with a slingshot killed a turkey that had been terrorizing the town of Louiseville, Que., about 167 kilometres west of Beauceville.

The rising number of turkeys in Quebec has become a problem for farmers, said Stéphanie Levasseur, a vice-president with the province's farmers association, called Union des producteurs agricoles.

In the summer, turkeys eat crops in the fields and fruit in orchards, like grapes and apples. In the winter they eat crops stored on farms, like hay bales and silage — a type of animal feed, she said. And because wild turkeys break through plastic wrappings used to protect those harvests from the elements, they damage more than they eat, Levasseur said.

Farmers are used to the threat that animals like deer pose to their crops, but with rising turkey numbers, it's difficult to adapt control measures fast enough, Levasseur said.

The farmers association has asked the Quebec government to expand the turkey hunting season and increase the number of birds each hunter can bring home.

Without hunting, Levasseur said, the sheer numbers of turkeys — and their boldness — will lead to more situations like those in Beauceville and Louiseville.

"The more of them they are, the closer they will get, that's for sure," she said. "They're opportunists, if they know they can feed more easily near humans, they'll keep coming near us. If we can't control them by hunting there's not much else we can do."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the turkey had broken into the care home on Sunday and that Louiseville was 167 kilometres east of Beauceville.