Thanksgiving’s over, it’s safe to come out

Yesterday morning CJ was delighted to see this guy wandering outside our house:
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I knew wild turkeys were native to Wisconsin, but what I didn’t know was that they went extinct here in the late nineteenth century, the victims of overenthusiastic hunting and diseases contracted from domestic fowl. The state tried three times to reintroduce the species; in the 1930s and 1950s, turkey populations gathered from game farms were released into the wild, only to founder and die out. In 1974, Wisconsin arranged a daring swap: the Missouri Department of Conservation sent us 45 wild turkeys collected by trappers in exchange for 135 of our ruffed grouse. Wisconsin’s turkey population now stands at more than 200,000, concentrated most heavily in the southwestern part of the state.

For all this information and more, not to mention handsome charts, see the Wisconsin Division of Natural Resources document “History of Wild Turkeys in Wisconsin,” part I of the book Wild Turkey Ecology and Management in Wisconsin which is surely loaded with useful tips. One thing that’s notably missing is an explanation of why so much effort was made to bring the turkeys back. Was it just some general presumption that our ecosystem ought to look as much as possible like it did before we started clearing forest? Or more because people like to shoot turkeys?

The birds on the other side of the trade, by the way, had a harder go of it; the rather poignant 2000 Ruffed Grouse Status Report suggests that a grouseless Missouri is in our near future. I like to think of the wild turkey as Adam Jones, and the ruffed grouse as Erik Bedard.

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