TIME IS UPON US AGAIN
Thanksgiving approaches, the first concept having anything to do with
ecology that comes to mind for most Americans is a turkey. The image
for some is of North America's largest game bird with a fanned out tail
as remembered from a painting, photograph or paper drawing cutout on
a school bulletin board. Others think of an oven-baked and -browned
domestic bird sitting in the center of a holiday table. From an environmental
perspective, they are totally different animals, but in terms of origin
and genetics they are the same species.
time last year I answered several questions people had asked about wild
turkeys, such as, can they fly? Absolutely. Last month I was walking
through an old-field full of brown broom sedge and the last remaining
composite flowers of yellow and white. I heard a rustling in front of
me and saw the tall grass moving. Then came flapping and whirring sounds
as I watched three large turkeys fly to the tops of three tall water
oaks. A turkey's wingspan is more than four feet, so they create quite
a spectacle when up close. After I caught my breath, I marveled at them
as they perched high above. Turkeys roost in trees at night, so, it
being late afternoon, that may be where they spent the night.
question was related to the current-day distribution and abundance of
wild turkeys, which now thrive throughout much of their original geographic
range from Canada to Mexico. They are found in every state except Alaska.
Even Hawaii, where they are not native but have been introduced, has
spring and fall turkey hunting seasons. Wild turkeys were nearly exterminated
during the 1800s and early 1900s due to overhunting but have now recovered
over major portions of their natural range.
of groups can be credited for the reestablishment of the species across
the country. State game agencies deserve acclaim for carrying out proper
management plans. Their efforts in conserving suitable habitat conditions
and tightly controlling illegal hunting are essential for maintaining
sustainable populations of wild turkeys. Commendation is also due the
National Wild Turkey Federation headquartered in Edgefield, S.C., for
their efforts in wild turkey preservation. This nonprofit conservation
organization founded in 1973 "works daily to further its mission
of conserving the wild turkey and preserving our hunting heritage."
represent an ironic, counterintuitive phenomenon of wildlife management.
That is, if hunting the birds was the reason for their decline and eventual
near extinction across the continent in the past, how can hunting them
now be positive? In the most simplistic sense, population levels of
any animal species will remain stable if the number removed by deaths
each year equals the number of replacements by new births. As is true
of virtually all game species, scientific research is conducted to understand
the behavior, ecology and demographic changes of wild turkeys in all
seasons and under different environmental conditions. Research and management
programs, including habitat restoration, have been in progress almost
a half century to retain population viability for wild turkeys. State
hunting guidelines are adjusted each year to ensure population stability.
overlooked fact about the wild turkey is that it is the only domesticated
bird native to the United States. In fact turkeys, along with Muscovy
ducks, which occur naturally from Mexico to South America, are the only
birds native to the Western Hemisphere that have been truly domesticated.
Both still have wild populations, and both are hunted in the United
States, but for different reasons. Turkeys are a prized game species.
Muscovy ducks are a non-native species (primarily from Mexico) that
can be legally removed as a nuisance species in some areas.
all be thankful that turkeys are here to stay. Whether obtained by hunting
or by a trip to the grocery store, a turkey will be the dinner table
centerpiece for millions of North Americans on Thanksgiving Day.
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