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Archive for December 29th, 2009

It’s not too unusual to see a flock of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) when you’re travelling local rural roads. This is especially so in winter, when the large birds show up starkly against snowy fields as they forage. It hasn’t always been that way though. I certainly never saw turkeys when I was growing up. Although wild turkeys are native to southern Ontario, its only Canadian locality, habitat loss and over-hunting decimated the turkey population during the 1800s. The species was extirpated from Ontario by 1909. The last confirmed sighting was in Aurora, north of Toronto.

A program to restore wild turkeys to Ontario was undertaken by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and the first 74 wild turkeys, imported from Michigan and Missouri, were released in 1984. Since then, additional birds have been imported and released with considerable success, with large population increases over the last two decades. The OMNR ended its release program at the beginning of 2005. It still seems something of a novelty to see flocks strutting and gleaning seeds in fields.

Turkeys do well where there is adequate forest cover, a water source, and open fields, such as corn and soybean fields, for foraging. When spring days begin to warm up, the winter flocks break into smaller breeding groups, with dominant males preventing subordinate males from accessing females. The females construct nests by scratching a depression in the ground in an area where it will be well concealed by grass and vegetation.

When snow is very deep, it limits the availability of food, as the turkeys are unable to forage on the ground. If snow depth exceeds 25 centimetres for more than seven weeks, turkeys may begin to starve to death. Good luck, turkeys. Hope to see you in the spring!

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