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From the Fall 2010 Conservationist for Kids

girl holding turkey

Restoring Turkeys in New York

By Gina Jack and Michael Schiavone

Wildlife managers help species survive by conserving their populations and habitats or, in some cases, by restoring species and their habitats that have declined or disappeared from New York. Turkeys are an important part of the forest ecosystem and food web, feeding of plants and insects, while being a food source for other wildlife. They are also an important part of our state's heritage and are a species that people like to hunt.

When wild turkeys were found New York State in the late 1940s, it was clear that there was once again good habitat for them here. If left on their own, it could take many years for wild turkeys to spread into all the areas they once lived. The New York State Conservation Department (now the Department of Environmental Conservation) decided to help them by raising young for release into the wild. During the 1950s, eggs were collected from turkey nests in the wild and hatched in captivity at a game farm in Chenango County. Once they were old enough, the poults (young turkeys) were released into the wild at different sites across the state.

Almost 3,200 game farm turkeys were released during the program, but the farm-raised wild turkeys weren't wild enough to survive on their own. Only a few survived long enough to produce their own young in the wild.

Wildlife managers thought it might be better to capture and move wild turkeys that already knew how to survive. The "trap and transfer" program began in the spring of 1959. A flock of turkeys netted in Allegany State Park was moved to nearby Cattaraugus County. Wildlife managers were pleased to see that the birds survived and the hens laid eggs and raised young in their new location. The success of this new technique was key to wild turkey restoration.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, more turkeys were trapped and transferred. In all, about 1,400 turkeys were moved within New York State. They survived and reproduced, spreading across the state. They now number more than 250,000. New York was on the leading edge of wild turkey trap and transfer, and sent wild turkeys to the New England states, New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Delaware, and the Canadian province of Ontario to help restore their populations as well.

How Trap and Transfer Worked

  1. A cannon-fired net was set up in an area where turkeys were known to feed. Food was set out in front of the net to attract the turkeys.
  2. This worked best in the winter. Natural food sources were limited due to the weather, and easy-to-get food was an attraction. Wildlife managers hid and waited for turkeys to arrive and begin feeding. (See the net on the right?)
  3. They fired the cannons when the birds were within range of the net, and the net was thrown over the turkeys.
  4. The birds were quickly removed from the netting.
  5. Each bird was weighed, measured, and had a metal band attached to its leg before it was placed in a box for transport.
  6. The turkeys were taken to a new area with suitable habitat and released together as a flock.

Wildlife managers returned later to check on the turkeys and see how well they survived in their new home. Helpful information was provided by hunters and others who observed the birds in the wild. Once turkey populations were large enough, a regulated hunting season was allowed with strict limits on where people could hunt and how many birds a hunter could take.