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Why Are Wild Turkeys Abundant in the Adirondacks but Declining Elsewhere?

Wild turkey. Photo by Gary Stolz, USF&WS

It’s weird to read that wild turkey numbers in the United States are declining when they appear to be booming in the Adirondacks. Really, it’s kind of weird that they are here in the Adirondacks to begin with.

At the time of the Pilgrims, wild turkeys were believed to be abundant in New York State, south of the Adirondacks, anyway. As woodland was converted to farmland, turkeys were hunted out of existence in New York by 1845. But in the mid-20th century, some wild turkeys from a remnant population in Pennsylvania wandered back into New York, and others were soon trapped and released to speed the reintroduction.

The birds thrived, even expanding north of the 43rd parallel, beyond what was believed to be turkey range at time of settlement. In the north woods, durable snowpack and cold turned out not to be a deterrent to their ground-scratching way of foraging. Over the past two decades it has become ordinary here to see flocks patrolling roadsides and fields bordered by forest, where they roost. John Thaxton wrote about the wild turkey’s triumphant New York return in “A Turkey Tale” in the December 2012 issue of Adirondack Life.

At the same time, however, wild turkeys have been declining in southern states, according to an article in the current issue of Audubon magazine. It could be that rapid population growth refilled a vacant habitat niche and numbers are adjusting as they regain equilibrium, but ornithologists are watching to see if something else is going on.

Wild turkey populations have also declined in southern parts of New York State over the past 10 years, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reports. In an effort to better understand factors influencing population change across the entire state, DEC is embarking on the second year of a four-year study this winter.

The agency is asking landowners for help counting turkeys. According to a press release issued Monday, volunteers would alert the agency when they see flocks frequenting their property January through March. If the site is suitable, DEC technicians may trap, band and release the birds on location.

Interested landowners may contact the project coordinator for their region.

Eastern Adirondacks:

Melissa Neely
(518) 623‑1273
NYSDEC, Bureau of Wildlife
Hudson St. Extension
Warrensburg, NY 12885

Western Adirondacks:

Jeff Eller
(315) 785‑2262
NYSDEC, Bureau of Wildlife
317 Washington St.
Watertown, NY 13601

More information about the survey and forms for reporting flock sites are available on DEC’s website at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/48756.html

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