The triumphant return of the tri-town's wild turkeys

By Andrea Ray | Apr 18, 2017
Photo by: Andrea Ray A particularly handsome male Eastern wild turkey, found on April 16.

For residents of the tri-town, there are days when turkeys might seem to be everywhere.

They’re stopping traffic, running in front of cars, strolling onto backyards and wandering through fields.  During April and May, at the height of mating season, their squabbling seems endless. No matter where you live in the tri-town, you’ve probably encountered a turkey or two.

For hundreds of years, that wasn’t the case. Though turkeys were populous throughout most of what is now the eastern and central United States prior to colonial settlement, the Massachusetts Department of Wildlife notes that wild turkeys were considered a rarity in the greater Boston area by 1672. When Benjamin Franklin jokingly praised the turkey as America's national emblem, it's likely he wasn't talking about wild birds. By 1851, wild turkeys were virtually extinct in Massachusetts, living in small populations.

Efforts were only made to re-establish turkeys in Massachusetts starting in 1911, using pen-raised stock. This effort, along with eight other attempts in five counties, failed.

The famous bird’s return really only began in 1972, when MassWildlife, in cooperation with the state of New York, live-trapped 37 wild turkeys in New York state, and transplanted them to western Massachusetts.

Offspring of those birds were transplanted elsewhere within Massachusetts. Locally, 25 birds were released in Middleborough in 1978; 24 were released in Bridgewater in 1992; 23 were released in Dartmouth in 1993 and 26 were released in Halifax in 1994.

The birds slowly spread; the only places they can’t be found, according to MassWildlife, are Nantucket and Boston. MassWildlife’s word has not stopped everyone though - some rebellious birds have been spotted indulging in tourism and strolling through downtown Boston, checking Boylston and State Streets off of their lists.

Those tourist turkeys- along with the rest of their kin back in the Massachusetts woodlands - are called ‘Eastern wild turkeys’. According to MassWildlife, they’re the most common type of wild turkey, existing from as far north as New England and Ontario, as far west as Iowa, and as far south as Texas and northern Florida. As of 2013, there are estimated to be 25,000 wild birds in Massachusetts.

For more information on turkeys (they're surprisingly hard to tell apart!) please visit MassWildlife's brochure:




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