We have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. At the Willistown Conservation Trust, we are most appreciative of our supporters, as well as the 7,200 acres of open space that has been conserved. This holiday, we are highlighting a bird that is the most synonymous with Thanksgiving, the wild turkey!
What you may not know is that the reintroduction of the wild turkey is one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time. The wild turkey was a favorite past-time meal for the colonists dating back to the mid-1600s. However, due to over hunting and habitat destruction wild turkeys disappeared from the Pennsylvania landscape by 1850. In 1888, Pennsylvania ornithologist B. H. Warren, in his book, The Birds of Pennsylvania, wrote, “This noble game bird, although rapidly becoming extirpated, is still found in small numbers in the wooded, thinly-populated and uncultivated districts of this Commonwealth.”
Fortunately, the formation of the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 1895 helped place important restrictions that benefitted this iconic dwindling game bird. In addition, the previously logged stump-ridden landscape of Penn’s Woods began growing back into the young dense early successional habitat. With restricted hunting and better habitat, Pennsylvania made every effort to fully restore turkey numbers. By 1929 turkey hunting was illegal and the state raised and released wild turkeys in the ridges and valleys of the state. For the next 30 years, wild turkey numbers began to slowly rise.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the Pennsylvania Game Commission began to trap and transfer wild turkeys as a way to accelerate its range expansion. In addition, research from biologists provided important information about the needs of wild turkeys. By 1980, Pennsylvania’s wild turkey trap and transfer program was the talk of the nation’s wildlife managers. The program was an overwhelming success! Turkey management zones were established in the Commonwealth in 1985 to provide protection for recently established or small, growing turkey populations. Trap and transfer work paved the way for the self-sustaining wild turkey populations that now occupy much of the state. Nearly 2,800 turkeys have been trapped and transferred to 39 counties within Pennsylvania from 1960 – 2003.
When you sit at the table with your family this holiday, please remember the story of the wild turkey and be thankful for the great conservation work that is underway, both in Willistown and beyond!