About two dozen Eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) strolled through the yard today scouring the ground for tidbits. Omnivorous, they especially favor acorns, other tree nuts, seeds, berries and insects.
Although we’ve had freezing rain all day and the lighting was not optimal, I attempted a few photos anyway. It’s always a thrill to have a large flock pass through. Lacking a male beard (a specialized tuft of feathers arising from the chest), my guess is that these are a few hens with last summer’s brood. Each hen lays an average of a dozen eggs with hatchling mortality after a month being 53-73%. After the poults hatch out, the hens often flock together for safety.
Males can reach thirty pounds and a height of four feet – that is one big bird! Despite their size, they are agile and quick to fly at the least sign of danger. Their eyesight is very keen and alert to any movement, they will even notice someone inside a house.
According to the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife:
At the time of Colonial settlement, wild turkeys were found nearly throughout Massachusetts. They were probably absent from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and perhaps the higher mountain areas in the northwest part of the state. As settlement progressed and land was cleared for buildings and agriculture, turkey populations diminished. By 1800, turkeys were quite rare in Massachusetts, and by 1851 they had disappeared.
Between 1911 and 1967 at least 9 attempts in 5 counties were undertaken to restore turkeys to Massachusetts. Eight failed (probably because of the use of pen-raised stock; and one established a very marginal population which persisted only with supplemental feeding.
In 1972-73, with the cooperation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, MassWildlife personnel live-trapped 37 turkeys in southwestern New York and released them in Beartown State Forest in southern Berkshire County. By 1976, these birds had successfully established themselves and by 1978 this restoration effort was declared a success.
Beginning in 1978, MassWildlife began live-trapping turkeys from the Berkshires and releasing them in other suitable habitat statewide. Between 1979 and 1996, a total of 26 releases involving 561 turkeys (192 males, 369 females) were made in 10 counties.
The turkeys in my photos are most likely descendants from a flock of 14 (6 males, 8 females) that were released 7 miles away in 1981-82, the third capture and release the program performed.
Nationwide, the population of wild turkeys in the 1952 was 320,000. Thanks to restoration efforts, they now number over six million.