ARE HERE TO STAY
Thanksgiving Americans will consume more than 45 million turkeys. Those
ending up on dinner tables amid dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce
will mostly be the fat, white-feathered, commercially raised birds that
folks will pick up from local grocery stores. A few, however, might
be the original native species, the wild turkey familiar to all Americans,
acquired through legitimate hunting.
seems like an appropriate time to address the following questions about
Can turkeys fly, or do they always stay on the ground?
Wild turkeys are fast runners on land and will often try to escape a
threat by sprinting through the woods. But wild turkeys also can fly
for short distances and most roost up in trees. A startling experience
I had with turkeys was during a nighttime canoe trip on a creek on a
moonlit night when we were not using flashlights. We bumped into a floating
log, waking up a flock of wild turkeys roosting in the oak trees above.
A dozen or more flew directly overhead with a whirring of wings and
crashing of tree branches. When I finally caught my breath, I heard
them in the trees on the other side of the creek resettling for the
night. Domesticated turkeys are generally too heavy to fly and probably
cant run very fast either.
How many wild turkeys are there in the United States? I have heard that
they have been reintroduced into many areas of the country where they
had been exterminated.
Wild turkeys thrive throughout much of their original geographic range,
with every state except Alaska having populations that are sizable enough
for regulated hunting seasons. Re-establishment of Americas largest
native game bird across most of the country can be attributed to efforts
by the National Wild Turkey Federation. The NWTF, headquartered in Edgefield,
was founded in 1973 as a nonprofit conservation organization that
works daily to further its mission of conserving the wild turkey and
preserving our hunting heritage.
to NWTF, the greatest numbers of wild turkeys are in the eastern half
of the country. Among the highest are Texas with an estimated 500,000
and Alabama, considered a top choice for turkey hunting by the pros,
with 400,000. Of course, 240 million turkeys will be raised commercially
this year, but the idea of potentially encountering a wild turkey, part
of our natural heritage, in almost any forest in the country is an exciting
What was the original natural distribution pattern of wild turkeys?
Turkeys occurred naturally in the 1700s from southern Canada into Central
America. Eastern North America had an abundance of wild turkeys. But
as the country developed, the species began to decline and gradually
disappear due to uncontrolled hunting and habitat mismanagement. Some
survived in forested areas, but populations became sparse everywhere,
almost to the point of extinction.
Efforts are being made to bring turkeys back into the wild across the
country, so why is the hunting of wild turkeys still permitted? This
The present-day success of wild turkeys demonstrates how regulated hunting
and habitat management can have a positive effect on a popular game
species. Ironically, a hunted game species often fares better than nongame
native species. One reason is that substantial efforts are made to maintain
sustainable populations, which means maintaining suitable habitat conditions
and controlling illegal hunting. Federal and state support for game
management comes directly from taxes paid by hunters for firearms, ammunition,
and other hunting essentials. In addition, scientific research can be
supported that focuses on understanding the behavior and ecology of
the species in all seasons and in different habitats and weather conditions.
By coordinating environmental restoration, research and management programs
for more than 40 years, the NWTF has helped ensure suitable wildlife
habitat and population viability for wild turkeys, which has led to
their successful return as Americas greatest game bird
and their continued popularity as Thanksgivings main course.
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