Finding Wild Turkeys In The City of Oakland

Image Courtesy of Dan Smith

Don’t move to the city if you want to be close to nature – or so the thinking goes.

One could easily argue that cities are the antithesis of the natural world. They’re artificial, concrete covered landscapes dotted with parks to cultivate plants and zoos to exhibit animals. The entire place has been designed for humans.

Knowing this, I didn’t expect to see much nature when I first moved to Oakland. So, one can only imagine my shock at discovering wild turkeys living within the city.

Before discussing the turkeys, it’s important to note that our cities are filled with all kinds of creatures. Although, they tend to be the stereotypical urban-dwellers such as pigeons, rats, and squirrels.

Also, like other coastal cities, Oakland has a number of water birds. These can be found around Lake Merritt, an inlet off the San Francisco Bay that is located near the city’s downtown. The lake provides a habitat for geese, seagulls, ducks, pelicans, cormorants, herons, and more. Even the occasional turtle can be seen sunning itself on a rock.

Having grown up in rural Pennsylvania, I’m used to seeing a flock of turkeys (also called a rafter) every once in a while. Usually they are in an open field, scratching at the ground, and looking for food. While turkeys aren’t rare, one doesn’t normally see them everyday. So I was surprised to discover wild turkeys living in Oakland.

The first encounter occurred in the Morcom Rose Garden, previously known as the Amphitheater of the Roses. Surrounded by a residential neighborhood, this small park is nestled in a low lying area and is landscaped with roses, stone walls, tall trees, and a cascading fountain.

It was dusk when I noticed two turkeys meandering through the roses in my direction. I held still, and the pair came within a few feet of me before turning around and heading off the other way.

I was quite excited by this meeting and continued to see them frequently over the next several years. Once, I even spotted a turkey roosting about fifteen feet up in a tree, answering the question of where they went during the daytime.

Eventually, I came to realize that the city is a convenient habitat for these birds. There is a plentiful supply of food, some of it even purposefully left out by people. Also, because the park is surrounded by homes, the turkeys are protected from hunting.

The Rose Garden has an array of other interesting wildlife too. Anna’s Hummingbirds, Steller’s Jays, California Towhees, Scrub Jays, and even a group of Cooper’s Hawks can all be spotted on occasion. This is in addition to the more common chipmunks, robins, finches, sparrows, and crows.

There’s more nature in our cities than one might imagine. You just have to have a sharp eye and care enough to look.


  1. And, what is wonderful about turkeys is that they have made a comeback, at least here in Pennsylvania. When I was a boy growing up in Montour County, one never saw turkeys. Now, they are becoming a common sight. The same can be said for hawks and eagles. This is certainly a testament to something good that has happened to our environment. Andrew: this writing on turkeys was very enjoyable to read. Thanks!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Another bird story – the other day while out on Point Reyes I spotted a bird hovering over a field. It was a small hawk of sorts. I looked it up and based on the colors and size I believe it was a kestrel.

  2. It sounds like you have become quite the birdwatcher. Your Aunt Barb would be proud.
    Have you seen any of your grandparents lately?

  3. When I was younger and I lived in more rural areas I used to chase wild turkeys through the woods for fun.

    I never caught one, but this is a good thing because the turkey probably would have beaten me up.

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