As we head into November there is usually one bird on everyone’s mind (or maybe their plate): Wild Turkey. But how much do you know about the turkey? Below is some background information on the lives of these famous Thanksgiving birds.
Roosting. Yes! Turkeys do roost in trees. They look a little awkward up there, but they are actually very strong fliers and know the best places to avoid predators.
Forming groups. Most of the wild turkeys you see this time of year travel in groups and there is a surprising amount of order within those groups. All summer long, hens keep their poults (baby turkeys) close. As the male poults grow up (larger than their mother), they begin to form their own group, leaving all the hens, who form their own, larger, groups with other hens. There will now be well established hierarchies within each intrasexual group.
Winter Movements. Wild Turkeys are not a migratory species, but do exhibit some minor range changes to take advantage of resources or to avoid inhospitable climates. The turkeys we see at Gilsland Farm are a perfect example: they are conspicuous all summer long, raising their poults and feeding in our meadows, but when winter hits, and deep snow builds up, they leave. They don’t go far though; mostly into the woods where the dense tree cover reduceses snow depths and makes for easier foraging. Here is a graph showing the frequency of Wild Turkey reports at Gilsland Farm through the year (note the turkeys are not reported on the property during our snow-covered months):
Historic population in Maine. Going back to pre-European settlement, Wild Turkeys were prevalent in York and Cumberland Counties. But following the arrival of Europeans and their agricultural practices, up to 90% the turkey’s range was converted to farmland. The reduction in forest land and unrestricted hunting are believed to be the two biggest factors leading to the extirpation (local extinction) of native wild turkeys in Maine in the early 1800′s.
Luckily, much of the landscape reverted and was suitable for turkeys, so an reintroduction effort began in 1942. 35 years of failed efforts with raised birds was eventually bested by using relocated wild birds. Following is a summary by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW): “In 1977 and 1978, MDIFW obtained 41 Wild Turkeys from Vermont and released them in the towns of York and Eliot. In Spring 1982, 33 turkeys were trapped from the growing York County population and released in Waldo County. In the winter of 1984, 19 birds were captured in York County and released in Hancock County, but poaching was believed to be the demise of these birds. During the winters of 1987 and 1988, 70 Wild Turkeys were obtained from Connecticut to augment Maine’s growing turkey population.”
Below are two maps – the one on the left shows the Wild Turkey’s range from the “Atlas of Breeding Birds in Maine 1978-1983” compared to a more recent snapshot of their distribution, courtesy of eBird.org:
We all know about the great success story of Bald Eagles’ populations rebounding, but can you believe the success their competitors for the national bird has also had?!
A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.