Wild turkeys make a huge comeback in Southern Ontario

What bird living in the Grand River area has a beard, snood and caruncles?

Wild turkeys of course.

They were eradicated from this area, the province and many states by 1909 due to unregulated hunting and the loss of native forests that were cleared for agriculture.

Now they are back in the Grand River watershed by the thousands. They are especially noticeable in winter, because they gather into large groups and move around together in their quest for food. At night they roost in trees.

“The reintroduction of wild turkeys is a real success story,” says Art Timmerman, management biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Eastern wild turkeys from several states including Missouri, New Jersey and Tennessee were released at 15 sites in the Grand River watershed between 1986 and 2002.

This was carried out by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the National Wild Turkey Federation, an American organization with several local chapters.

The first release in 1986 was near Glen Morris south of Cambridge.

By 1989, the number of turkeys had increased to the point that the first spring turkey hunt in the Grand River watershed was held.

The first fall hunt took place in 2009. The Ministry of Natural Resources keeps track of the numbers harvested during the hunting season.  Wildlife Management Units 80 and 87, which are within the Grand River watershed, reported a harvest of 577 wild turkeys last spring.  During the spring hunt only male (bearded) wild turkeys can be harvested.

But before this successful reintroduction  came many years of failed attempts, because the first turkeys to be released were not truly wild.

Ontario’s turkey release program benefited from the experience of other programs that had already taken place south of the border, Timmerman says.

While driving past Shade’s Mills Conservation Area on the outskirts of Cambridge just after Christmas, a flock of 10 wild turkeys were seen crossing the road.

A resident of Grand Valley reports that he has a group of turkeys at his feeder regularly during winter and another person saw 20 parading around near Breslau.

On Highway 24, just east of Guelph, a group of turkeys has been spotted so often this winter that carpoolers have started to call the area “Turkey Fields.”

Turkeys need forested areas and they have also have adapted well to agriculture. They eat the waste grains after the harvest season and during the winter.

Due to the influences of forestry, agriculture and milder climatic conditions, the range of wild turkeys in Ontario is now considerably larger than it was thought to be historically.

Conversely, the intensification of agriculture in some parts of southern Ontario has prevented the birds from uniformly filling the entire landscape of their former range.

Some Turkey Facts:

·Nests are shallow depressions formed mostly by scratching, squatting, and laying eggs rather than by purposeful construction.

– Hens lay a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs during a two-week period, usually laying one egg per day.

– The snood is the flap of skin that hangs over the turkey’s beak and the caruncles are growths in the throat region. The beard is the tuft of feathers that hangs down from the chest area.

– Wild turkeys have excellent vision during the day but don’t see as well at night.

– They can run up to 40 km/h and can fly as fast as 90 km/h.

– There are five subspecies of turkey in North America, but only the eastern turkey is native to Ontario.

– There are now an estimated 90,000 turkeys in the province.

– A male, called a tom or a gobble, can be up to four feet tall at maturity and weigh more than 20 pounds, while a mature female, called a hen, may be nearly as tall but is usually lighter, weighing between eight and 12 pounds.

– Ben Franklin proposed the turkey would make a better symbol for the United States than the bald eagle. Eagles were scavengers which would take a fish from a hawk, while turkeys are courageous, he said.