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Turkeys: eat in the fall, count in the winter

A flock of turkeys consisting of females and poults is shown here from July. There is an obvious size difference between the adult females and the young poults. Depending on the amount and type of ground vegetation, turkeys can be hard to spot in the summer.
TRR photos by Scott Rando

November 26, 2014

As you read this, you may be getting ready for that big Thanksgiving dinner. Most people associate the Thanksgiving holiday with turkey and turkey will be on the menus of most households across America. Some folks may even partake of wild turkey due to a successful hunt during fall turkey season. Today, whether we are looking in the poultry section of the supermarket, or in the woods in back of the house, there are usually turkeys aplenty to be seen; but it wasn’t always that way.

Turkeys came pretty close to extirpation during the 1800s in many areas due to large-scale land clearing and unregulated market hunting. Due to efforts by state agencies, hunters, and conservation groups, turkeys have made a very successful comeback. Most states now have a spring gobbler season and a fall turkey season with harvest reporting so that turkey populations can be correlated with harvest numbers.

Even though turkeys are well established in the region, their population fluctuates from year to year to factors such as weather and predation. Turkeys suffer especially high predation of young during the spring breeding season as they are ground nesters; this makes the young very vulnerable before they gain flight ability. For this reason, state wildlife agencies keep track of population trends via methods such as hunter submitted harvest reports and field surveys.

In a little more than a month, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) will be conducting its annual Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey, and it is a survey in which everyone can participate. From January through March, NYSDEC gathers information on the turkey population by counting the number of turkeys in each flock. This is an opportunity for interested people to help NYSDEC monitor wild turkey populations, and it is fairly easy to do. A pair of field glasses will help to find turkeys that are partially hidden. The only thing required during the winter count is numbers; determining age or sex is not necessary. This is something that could be done while hunting, hiking or driving (safely park before you count). The instructions and forms can be found at