CPW releases wild turkey update, facts as Thanksgiving approaches

Once nearly extinct throughout the state, there are more wild turkeys in Colorado now than ever before, according to a news release issued by biologists at Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“The increase of wild turkeys in Colorado is due to their adaptability, high reproductive capability and careful management of hunting,” said Brian Dreher, a senior terrestrial biologist for CPW, in the release.

Dreher said state wildlife managers have been developing strategies to increase the wild turkey population since the early 1980s. Since that time the agency has successfully transplanted wild turkeys into most of the available habitat in the state, according to the release.

Turkeys were plentiful in the North America when the Pilgrims landed, but as colonists spread west turkey populations plummeted to approximately 30,000 by 1900. In the release Dreher said wild turkeys faced a double whammy in the early years of our country.

“There were no regulations to prevent over-hunting, and forests in the eastern U.S. were cut down for farmland and firewood,” he said in the release. “Without trees and suitable habitat, the birds became scarce.”

Wild turkeys once again are abundant across the nation due to modern turkey-management programs by state wildlife agencies and conservation groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, the release stated.

According to CPW, wild turkeys are cunning, wary birds that have excellent eyesight and can run at speeds up to 25 mph to escape predators. Some people think turkeys are too big to fly, and while that may be true of domestic birds, wild turkeys are capable of flying for short distances at speeds up to 50 mph.

These characteristics make wild turkeys a challenging quarry for hunters, according to the release.

“In 2013, there will be additional hunting opportunities in GMU 30 just north of Grand Junction,” said Brad Petch, a senior terrestrial biologist for the Northwest Region, in the release. “There will still be a youth-only hunt, but we’ve added additional hunting licenses available to adult hunters.”

Colorado is home to the native Merriam’s subspecies of wild turkey as well as the Rio Grande, which was introduced to the state in 1980, the release stated.

According to CPW, the Merriam’s wild turkey lives primarily in open meadows and in ponderosa, oak brush and pinion juniper stands in mountainous zones west of Interstate 25. The Rio Grande species inhabit cottonwood and riparian areas adjacent to agricultural lands in the eastern portion of the state.

Wild turkeys mate in the early spring with courtship usually begins while turkeys are still flocked together in wintering areas. Males attract females through a variety of calls, struts and displays including fanning their tail feathers, according to the release.

After mating, the hens begin searching for a nest site to lay eggs. Wild turkeys build nests in shallow dirt depressions surrounded by moderately woody vegetation to conceal it, the release stated.

Hens lay a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs during a two-week period, usually laying one egg per day. Hens will incubate their eggs for about 28 days, occasionally turning and rearranging them until they are ready to hatch, according to the release.

A newly-hatched flock must be ready to leave the nest within 12 to 24 hours to feed, usually in the morning and the afternoon. Young turkeys, known as poults, eat insects, berries and seeds, while adults will eat anything from acorns and berries to insects and small reptiles, according to the CPW release.