Since Thanksgiving is next week, it's time again for my annual regional park turkey talk.

You've undoubtedly seen the birds all over the place, in open space and in residential neighborhoods. Turkeys were native to California about 10,000 years ago, but the line died out. Those we see in the wild today are descendants of birds that were reintroduced to the state many years ago for hunting purposes.

There still is a turkey-hunting season in California, but no hunting of any kind is allowed in the East Bay Regional Parks.

Oak woodlands are wild turkeys' preferred habitat. The birds are ground nesters, but they can fly up into trees to avoid predators. They eat seeds, bugs, berries, acorns in the fall and clover in the spring.

Turkeys are prey for mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and raptors such as golden eagles. Adult turkeys are big birds, 15 to 20 pounds. Their powerful chest muscles enable explosive 55-mile-per-hour flight, and their strong legs can get them 18 miles per hour on the ground. Moreover, the placement of a turkey's eyes gives it a 270-degree range of vision. And turkeys have acute hearing, because of their huge ear canals.

Wild tom turkeys are polygamous. They start assembling a harem of 14 to 20 hens from middle to late February. Breeding takes place in March, eggs are laid in April and the poults (baby birds) are hatched in May.


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Although turkeys roost in trees, the females nest on the ground amid rocks and brush. When the poults are hatched, they can't fly for the first two weeks, so most of them succumb to predators during that time.

If you do see turkeys in the regional parks, please don't approach them. Just enjoy watching them from a distance. And please don't try to feed them either. The birds are better off on a natural diet.

turkey hike: As it happens, there's an "Almost Turkey Day Hike" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, led by naturalist "Trail Gail" Broesder. It's a seven-miler, shorter if the ground is muddy, but intended for ages 10 and older. Bring a snack to share. You might even see some wild turkeys.

The hike is free of charge. Meet at the Environmental Education Center, which is located at the north end of Tilden's Central Park Drive. For information, call 510-544-2233.

WALK THE FOOTHILLS: Diablo Foothills Regional Park will be the destination for the Wednesday Walkers in a hike from 9:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday, led by naturalist Chris Garcia. It's a moderate to strenuous six-mile hike. Everyone is welcome; Wednesday Walkers has no formal membership rolls.

The hike is free. Meet at the staging area near the end of Livorna Road east of Interstate 680 in Alamo. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3282.

HIKERS 55-PLUS: The Over-the-Hills Gang, an informal group of hikers 55 and older who enjoy exercise and natural history, will explore Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in a hike from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The leader is Dave Zuckermann, the supervising naturalist at Tilden Nature Area.

The hike is free of charge. Meet at Sibley's entrance, which is on Skyline Boulevard a short distance south of the intersection with Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Oakland hills. For information, call 510-544-2233.

butterflies: Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont continues celebrating its monarch butterfly winter guests with programs from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 23 through Nov. 25, all led by naturalists Chris Garcia and Jenna Scimeca.

All programs meet at the Ardenwood granary for a slide show, followed by a walk to the eucalyptus grove where the butterflies hang out, literally.

Ardenwood is located at 34600 Ardenwood Blvd., just north of Highway 84. The entrance fee is $3 for adults and $2 for youngsters ages 4 to 17. Three-year-olds and those younger get in free, and parking is free. For more information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2797.

Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at nedmackay@comcast.net.