In the Right Place: Turkeys without borders

By Richard Leighton

November in rural Maine has become a month for avoiding turkeys as much as for hunting and eating them. The wild ones roam freely in foraging flocks called “rafts.” It’s not unusual to see a raft of 20 or more turkeys working a field.

They’re fun to see, but the ones that you don’t see — the ones in the brush alongside the road — can be problematic. Many wild turkeys are jaywalkers with a death wish. They dart across the road just when vehicles get within skidding distance. Turkey-related vehicle accidents reportedly are increasing here. Thank goodness these birds sleep at night.

We’re beginning to wonder whether Maine has been too successful in reintroducing the birds. The original colonizers of New England reported wild turkey rafts of more than 100 birds, which the colonists hunted relentlessly. By 1672, it was rare to see a wild turkey in Massachusetts.
But the birds remained numerous in the sparsely settled north, now called Maine. As Maine became settled, the number of wild turkeys here diminished severely; by the 1880s, the birds were uncommon in much of the state.

After several unsuccessful attempts to reintroduce wild turkeys into Maine, a small imported flock took hold in the 1970s. That flock has now grown to an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 birds and is continuing to grow, according to Maine wildlife officials. In a recent state survey, more than a third of Mainers responded that additional steps should be taken to reduce the wild turkey population.


Editor’s Note: Brooklin author/photographer Richard J. Leighton creates the popular “In the Right Place” posts online about life and nature in Maine. He will share a post the second Thursday of each month in The Ellsworth American.

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