Petaluma is a good place for spotting a wide variety of wild birds.
You can see a gaggle of geese at Lucchesi Park, a hedge of herons on the Petaluma River or a bevy of quail at Shollenberger Park, among others.
And, this Thanksgiving, you might find yourself face-to-face with a rafter of turkeys.
These rafters of turkeys, also known as flocks, can be seen on a given morning in the hills of west Petaluma, on the roads leading to the coast, on Highway 101 near San Antonio Road, on Adobe Road south of town and in Penngrove.
Over the past few years people have reported seeing flocks of as many as 60 birds, and sightings appear to be increasing in Petaluma and around the North Bay.
Michele Orsinger doesn?t remember seeing any turkeys around her La Cresta Heights neighborhood when she was growing up there in the 1950s and ?60s. She moved back to the neighborhood five years ago, and caught sight of a flock of 20 foraging in a neighbor?s garden a few weeks ago. She and a few neighbors shooed them away, startling the wild birds, which ? although mostly harmless to humans ? can grow to three feet tall and 25 pounds.
?One of them flew right over my head,? Orsinger said.
Unlike their common domesticated cousins, the heavier Broad Breasted White turkeys, these wild birds can indeed fly about 30 feet at a time.
Orsinger often sees another flock, or perhaps the same flock, on her regular walks near McNear School. Last Thursday she spotted it tearing up another garden. Often, she said, the flock waits on the side of I Street for traffic to pass, then crosses the road two-by-two.
Out on the road to Point Reyes, Rachel Berliner and her family have been seeing a similar flock on their ranch over the past couple of years. Their dog, part Australian Blue Heeler, herds them around and keeps them out of her garden, which is also guarded by a deer fence. Berliner is quite fond of the fine-feathered friends.
?They?re very humorous,? she said. ?They?re a joy to watch.?
The most common wild turkey in the area is the Rio Grande, or Meleagris gallopavo intermedia. Native to Texas, they were introduced to California in the 1970s and ?80s for hunting purposes by the California Department of Fish and Game, and now number about a quarter of a million.
But a growing number of people consider them an unwelcome and invasive species that have grown too quickly, and several regional studies are currently seeking to determine how much damage they are doing to the environment and crops.
One group that isn?t too happy to see them are vineyard owners, who succeeded in getting a law passed in 2005 that enables them to cull the species on their property year-round if the birds are damaging the crop.
?They?ve become a nuisance,? said Patrick McNeil, a bow hunter and member of the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Petaluma Poults, a group that hunts the bird. Those with a hunting license can hunt the birds near Petaluma with the permission of property owners.
?We promote ethical, responsible and safe hunting practices,? said McNeil. Also, he said, hunting a turkey is not as easy as it might seem.