Many people will see a turkey on the Thanksgiving table next week, but they might also spot one flying across the Merritt Parkway.
The bird has made a big comeback since humans wiped out the state’s wild turkey population in the early 19th century. Efforts to reintroduce the bird to Connecticut gained momentum in the 1970s and today, wild turkeys roam the Northeast, to the delight of preservationists and hunters alike, according to Robert Abernethy, director of agency programs for the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Laura Simon FES ’89, the Urban Wildlife Director for the Fund for Animals, said her organization’s hotline has received numerous calls about turkeys in the area. She said wild turkeys are generally nonconfrontational with humans, but can get rowdy in the spring, during mating season.
“[In the spring] one turkey went after a storefront window,” Simon said.
She said this has happened several times when males see their reflection and try to drive away the “competition.”
“[Another turkey] went after a postal worker,” Simon said.
In 1975, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection began a successful wild turkey reintroduction project. The organization trapped 22 wild turkeys in New York state and set them free in northwestern Connecticut. Last year the DEP estimated the state’s wild turkey population at more than 30,000.
But rejuvenating the wild turkey population in America is not just an environmental concern.
Abernethy said a large part of the funding for restoration comes from hunters. He said all state wildlife agencies are funded through hunter licenses and the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1932, which taxes arms and ammunition.
Abernethy said people started turning turkeys loose in parts of America in the 1800s because they wanted to hunt them. Today the NWTF — a nonprofit organization that works through contacts in state agencies — continues to direct reintroduction projects of the wild bird across the country.
“They’re a big bird, they’re fun to hunt, and they’re good to eat,” Abernethy said.
Abernethy said the mission statement of the NWTF is “the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of the hunting tradition.”
Simon said her organization is also for “animal preservation.” She said she is familiar with the NWTF and its promotion of hunting.
“We feel that [hunting] is unethical,” Simon said. “They are a native bird, they belong in the environment, and we are opposed to the killing of them for sport.”
But Abernethy said the NWTF works with both hunting and non-hunting agencies.
“Conservation is not preservation,” he said.
Wild turkeys are out and about this time of year. They have been spotted from the Merritt Parkway and other roadsides. Simon said they are drawn to the short-cropped grass and food that is left over for them.
Turkey hunters, however, are taking a break. According to the DEP, the fall season for firearm turkey hunting ended on Nov 2. Bowhunting paused Tuesday, but on Christmas Day, the season will resume for one more week.
Simon said hunters often dress up as turkeys and use gadgets that simulate female turkey calls to lure males. But sometimes the noise mistakenly attracts other hunters, and people get hurt or even killed.
“Every year a turkey hunter shoots another turkey hunter, thinking he’s a turkey,” Simon said.