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History of Turkeys in the London Area

  • First "Why are the turkeys coming?". They are coming because we feed them 20 pounds of corn every day while the snow is on the ground. Also it helps that our back yard abuts Dingman Creek, where they live with the deer, coyotes, rabbits and racoons.

  • Secondly, where did they come from? Read the following exerpt from an article "Lets Talk Turkey" written by Karen Auzins for the "Cardinal", The quarterly publication of the McIlwraith Field Naturalists of London Inc.

........  Where did they come from, how, why, and anything else I could learn. I E-mailed Dave Martin and he proved to be a wealth of information and provider of excellent leads. My quest led me to Delbert Miller from MNR in Aylmer. Delbert told me he had been involved with the reinstatement of turkeys in Ontario since the beginning and he personally had a hand in releasing “my turkeys” just last winter. I learned a lot from Delbert.

Two Male Turkeys
Male Turkeys in Full Bloom

Wild turkeys don’t migrate and should be native to much of North America from Southern Canada to Central Mexico. Habitat loss and over harvesting eliminated wild turkeys from most of their range by the early 1900s. Restoration of these birds to most of their historic range is an example of a modern wildlife management success story. From 1984 to 87, 274 wild birds from 6 US states were released at 6 locations in southern Ontario. Birds came from Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Michigan, and Iowa and some of the later releases from Tennessee. Turkeys were valuable with a $500. price tag on their head. Deals were struck resulting in moose being traded for Michigan turkeys; river otters for Missouri turkeys and gray partridge for those from New York.

Wild birds are baited in winter. A rocket net about 60' x 40' is shot over the feeding birds. The trapped turkeys are put into individual boxes and transported to the release site as quickly as possible; usually within a maximum of 48 hours. The National Wild Turkey Federation (Canadian section) and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters have worked jointly for years on this project. Members of the associations go and pick up the donated birds and transport them across the border when necessary, have them checked out for diseases, take them to the release site and release them. Costs are covered by the association members themselves and by club dinners put on as fund raisers. By 1987 the birds were doing so well that from then on our own Ontario birds were being caught for release. To date over 3000 Ontario birds have been relocated to 190 sites and 600 additional US birds have been mixed in to keep the gene pool healthy. It is estimated that about 35,000 birds occupy 15,000 sq. miles in southern Ontario which is about 75% of their suitable range. Thus 2002 will probably be the last year of the trap and release part of this program.

Most of my turkeys came from the original release site in the Simcoe area and the few banded ones came from Tennessee. Normal release quantities are 12 hens and 5 males but a few extra were released here. On average, a hen will successfully raise 4 poults (baby turkeys) so for us to see 50 birds a year after the release was normal. When first introduced the populations grow rapidly and then seem to taper off thus looking after their own population control........