Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wild Turkeys

Every time I see wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), foraging alongside the roads up here in Maine, a smile crosses my face. I did a story about the reintroduction of these birds in Maine while working for The Irregular newspaper up in Kingfield back in the early 80s.  I had heard about a reintroduction program in Maine, got curious like a good reporter and started nosing around. As it turns, this once plentiful breed was on the brink of extinction in 17 of 36 states in this country including Maine.

At one time wild turkeys existed in significant numbers in York and Cumberland Counties.  Deforestation eliminated their habitat and food source of insects, berries, grass, grains and small reptiles, which drove them close to extinction in the 1930s. Reintroduction programs began in Maine in 1942 when the Department of Inland Fisheries and Game released 24 birds on Swan Island, in Sagadahoc County. In the 60s, fish and game clubs in Bangor and Windham imported birds that were raised from part wild and part game-farm stocks. But all attempts failed - wardens determined it was bad breeding and poaching - a bad combination. 

In 1977 and 1978, MDIFW reintroduced another 41 wild turkeys from Vermont and released them in the towns of York and Eliot. This time it worked! Nine turkeys were harvested in Maine during Maine's 1986 hunting season. The number climbed significantly to 6,043 in 2009.

Today, there are more than seven million wild turkeys patrolling the hills and valleys, fields and woods in 49 of our 50 states. Alaska is the only state that doesn't claim to have turkeys in the wild, and though I am tempted to dispute this opinion by commenting that I know it has at least one big one for sure, I will honor my son's request to set politics aside in this blog and just wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with their dear friends and family!

Here are some fun wild turkey facts:

• Turkeys can fly up to 60 miles per hour and a distance of one mile
• Footprints of toms can exceed 6 inches.
There are approximately 5,500 feathers on an adult wild turkey. 
• Wild turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hour. Their top speed in flight is 55 miles per hour 
• A wild turkey’s gobble can be heard up to one mile away.
Wild turkeys see color and have excellent daytime vision - three times better than a human’s eyesight which also covers 270 degrees. But they have poor vision at night.
• Because they have so many predators, they roost in trees at night 

Wild Turkeys • 8" x 8" watercolor • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200


1 comment:

  1. You're right about the big turkey in AK - I've seen it first hand. And, she seems to have produced several "Poults" (baby turkeys).