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COURSEY: Too much of a good thing


The thought hit me right about the time I figured out why the guy in the minivan had just cut across two lanes of traffic, jumped the curb and let out his passenger, who had been hanging out the window pointing his cellphone camera down Sonoma Avenue.

Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.

The object of the shutterbug's attention, and the cause of a near-pileup Monday afternoon at the downtown intersection of Santa Rosa and Sonoma avenues, was a large "wild" turkey. Now I know the answer to the question: Why did the minivan cross the road?

Several pedestrians and a guy on a bicycle stopped also, whipping out their phones to record this wondrous event. A turkey! In the middle of the street! In downtown Santa Rosa!

Well, get used to it, folks. If you like turkeys, or geese, or pelicans, or deer, I have bad news. We've got too much of a good thing.

The evidence is all around us. And I'm not just talking turkey.

In last Sunday's paper, Kent Porter's amazing photographs and Bob Norberg's disturbing story informed us of a plentitude of brown pelicans at Bodega Bay, where hordes of starving, aggressive birds are fighting over scraps of fish left on the ground or in dumpsters by fishermen. This is not a good thing; many of the birds are dying as large fish scraps lodge in their throats.

"There are an unusual number," said longtime charter boat captain Rick Powers. "We are seeing stuff we have not seen in years past. They seem aggressive and they are almost starving."

One photograph showed a fisherman cleaning his fish on an outdoor counter, standing on one leg while kicking away scavenging pelicans with the other.

These are birds that once were on the endangered species list.

In Oakmont, east of Santa Rosa, deer are so prevalent in the huge subdivision that some residents consider them pests. When a 73-year-old resident shot a small fawn with a pellet gun earlier this month, some neighbors speculated he was angry that the animal had been feeding on his landscaping (he couldn't offer a rational explanation for his actions).

Oakmont, adjacent to the wilds of Annadel State Park, also sees its share of turkeys and other woodland creatures. Increasingly, though, what we typically think of as "wild" fauna are becoming accustomed to living cheek to jowl with their not-so-wild human neighbors.

Witness the pelicans fighting the fisherman over scraps.

Large families of turkeys can routinely be seen meandering across Summerfield Road in Bennett Valley, around Fountaingrove, in the Sonoma Valley and in parts of the west county. And they increasingly appear in more urbanized locales — such as across the street from Santa Rosa City Hall on Monday afternoon.

A non-native species, the 20-pound birds gobble up crops and other vegetation, and at one time were identified as a threat to endangered red-legged frogs by park rangers in Annadel. The state Department of Fish and Game estimates turkeys range over 18 percent of the state, and encourages residents not to feed them and to "control wild turkey populations" by taking advantage of the spring and fall turkey hunting seasons (a license is required).

For an up-close-and-personal look at "wild" birds becoming tame pests, take a stroll over to Spring Lake Regional Park. Families picnicking near the swimming lagoon are greeted by gaggles of begging geese, some of which are more aggressive than a San Francisco panhandler. The geese hang out by the lagoon for human-provided snacks, but they also proliferate around the lake, where they strip the landscape of grass and leave in its place their telltale tubes of poop.

And it's not just Spring Lake. Any place with lots of grass and a little water — golf, anyone? — is home to a pretty comfortable population of geese these days.

Is this a problem? That depends upon your perspective. Certainly it's a good thing that brown pelicans are no longer endangered, and that we've saved the populations of many bird species by ridding the environment of such poisons as DDT. No doubt that many suburban residents enjoy seeing families of deer in the neighborhoods and formations of geese in their skies.

But it can't be good for these animals to rely on humans for their food. It's an ominous sign when pelicans fight over scraps that have the potential to kill them. It's sad to see a wild animal coming downtown for a bite to eat.

There can be too much of a good thing.

<i>Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.</i>