Part of a flock of 30 turkeys that invaded and took up residence in the East Bay town of Albany over the winter. (Dan Brekke/KQED)
Part of a flock of 30 turkeys that took up residence in the East Bay town of Albany over the winter. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Ever want to trap a turkey? Eradicate a raccoon? Garrote a goose? You’re not alone.

As more and more wild creatures set up housekeeping in Bay Area cities and suburbs, some residents are getting tired of squirrels eating their bird food. They’re furious when raccoons battle their dogs, sad when their roses disappear down a deer’s gullet, and disgusted when fowl foul the beach.

At the same time, some wild urban creatures look like they might be good for dinner. Several readers of our recent post on how to respond to aggressive turkeys suggested taking matters into your own hands. But if you’re searching in the basement for your grandfather’s shotgun, stop right there.

Most of the critters that annoy us the most are protected by one statute or another, especially within city limits.

First, it’s illegal to discharge a firearm or projectile weapon in most urban areas except in very specific instances, such as an immediate threat to personal safety. It’s unlikely a pecking fowl would qualify.

“I would not encourage anyone to engage a turkey with a firearm in our city limits,” says San Francisco police spokesman Gordon Shyy. You’d probably have to be cornered by a bear or mountain lion to claim self-defense.

Oakland and San Jose have similarly strict laws with few exceptions.

Berkeley’s municipal code appears to leave the largest loophole, an exemption for “persons using firearms for the purpose of destroying noxious animals upon land owned or occupied by them.” Berkeley officials confirm the law is on the books, but they refused to offer an example of when it might apply, or even a definition of “noxious.” (The law in Berkeley might be trumped by the state Fish and Game Code, which prohibits discharging firearms within 150 yards of an occupied building.)

Residents of cities other than Berkeley may wonder if they’d be allowed to kill animal intruders with their bare hands, or perhaps tilt the scale slightly with a tire iron or shovel.

Probably not. It’s illegal to kill certain animals that have a legal status, regardless of whether or not a gun is used. Animals like deer, mountain lions, gray squirrels, bears and turkeys, to name a few, are game animals and thus require a permit to hunt.

Distressed citizens can request a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which also requires contracting a licensed wildlife control operator who must act as the property owner’s agent. Once the permit and wildlife person are in place, the target animal must be euthanized (because problem critters won’t be relocated), and no one’s allowed to eat it.

“There’s no early turkey dinner,” said Conrad Jones, a CDFW scientist.

You may legally kill mice or rats by any means necessary. Just don’t use certain pesticides that are likely to cause ecological damage.

Raccoons—those lovable, intelligent garbage bandits—present an interesting legal quandary for the potentially murderous homeowner. Technically, “you do not need a permit to dispatch them if you are suffering damage,” Jones said. But you might find yourself arrested for poaching a fur-bearing animal.

So what can you do?

  • Don’t feed them directly, and don’t feed your pets outdoors. The more the wild animals get, the more they’ll demand. (If you actually want to help the wild animals, consult Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue.)
  • Secure your garbage cans and cat doors.
  • Pick up fallen fruit.
  • Build good fences.
  • If confronted, make noise or spray water.
  • If that doesn’t do the trick, contact the Department of Fish and Wildlife, your local animal control office or a licensed pest control service.
  • For more detailed recommendations on a variety of species, visit this CDFW resource page, or read these detailed documents from the UC-Davis.

In the meantime, get yourself a pair of binoculars and perhaps a telephoto lens. Some of these critters are downright fun to watch. Like this turkey in North Berkeley.

Can You Shoot a Goose? And Other Bay Area Wildlife Questions 21 February,2015Alex Emslie

  • pretty dang useless

  • donny

    use a high powered pellet gun for small critters–no noise

  • Tired of them

    State law says you have to have a hunting license ($40) for taking turkey and an Upland Game Fowl stamp ($8). Further, you can ONLY shoot them with a .22 caliber pellet rifle (can’t use a .17), the limit is FOUR and you can only take them IN SEASON. For $48, you can BUY four turkeys already dressed out, if you shop right…

  • Lexa

    Good article but I feel like a very important aspect was left out.

    Humans have encroached on the habitat of all of these animals. Where are they supposed to go? It may be our domesticated dogs, our roses or garbage, but they are only trying to survive. Perhaps it is they who should be figuring out how to get rid of the “pests” in their lives?


Alex Emslie

Alex Emslie is a criminal justice reporter at KQED. He covers policing policy, crime and the courts.

He left Colorado and a career as a carpenter in 2008 to study journalism at City College of San Francisco. He then graduated from San Francisco State University’s journalism program with a minor in criminal justice studies. Prior to joining KQED in 2013, Alex freelanced for various news outlets including the Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Bay Guardian.

Alex is proud of his work at KQED on a spike in fatal officer-involved shootings in Vallejo, which uncovered that a single officer shot and killed three suspects over the course of five months. Alex’s work with a team at KQED on police encounters with people in psychiatric crisis was cited in amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. He received the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Best Scoop award in 2015 for exposing a series of bigoted text messages swapped by San Francisco police officers. He was honored with 2010 San Francisco Peninsula Press Club and California Newspaper Publishers Association awards for breaking news reporting on the trial following the shooting of Oscar Grant. Email: Twitter: @SFNewsReporter.

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