Male turkeys are known as “toms.” Photo by John Hafner/National Wild Turkey Federation
The turkey is a quintessentially American bird, exported from the New World like corn and potatoes. But the turkey is not native to the Pacific Northwest. The wild turkeys you may have seen here are part of the bird’s comeback story.
The Northwest's wild turkeys are out-of-state newcomers. In fact, you might have lived here longer than turkeys have. A few were introduced in the 1960s, and then, “In the 1980s and 1990s, wild turkeys were brought into the Pacific Northwest," says This is Mikal Moore, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"The turkeys were released out of cardboard box. They were shipped in from various locations -– Texas, and other parts of the United States.”
A big reason for establishing these new colonies was that turkeys weren't doing so well in the eastern US. Over-hunting and cutting forests for farmland drove the bird close to extinction in the 20th century.
But with the help of wild turkey settlements in the Northwest and elsewhere, turkeys rebounded. Now they number around 7 million nationwide.
And, bonus, says Moore: “Wild turkeys are wonderful on the plate. I think you'll find them very flavorful.”
The introduced birds have had some conflicts with other species -– most notably, humans. Some western states have developed guidelines for handling the pecking, scratching habits of what they now call “nuisance turkeys.”
On the Web:
National Wild Turkey Federation
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