Save America’s Wildlife

A few post-Thanksgiving turkey facts

America's wild turkey population had fallen to about 200,000. Today there are 6.5 million turkeys in the U.S.

A Rio Grande tom and hen at the Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Robert Burton/USFWS | Public Domain
A Rio Grande tom and hen.

On Thanksgiving day, a small flock of turkeys flew over Highway 101 in northern California as I was driving. If you’ve seen them fly, you’ll know it wasn’t the most graceful of things, but the sight of them got me thinking about the conservation success story of wild turkeys.

So in the post-Thanksgiving spirit, here are a few wild turkey facts.

Turkeys were headed toward extinction

One hundred years ago, wild turkeys were flying toward extinction in the U.S. Their numbers had fallen to about 200,000. Today, the bird sits at about 6.5 million. One key reason: Funds from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which was enacted in 1937, have supported wild turkey conservation and more.

There are 5 subspecies of wild turkeys in the U.S.

There’s the Eastern wild turkey in 38 states east of the Mississippi; the Rio Grande wild turkey (pictured above), predominantly in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas; and the Florida wild turkey, also known as the Osceola turkey. Merriam’s wild turkeys live in the Rockies. And Gould’s wild turkeys live in New Mexico and Arizona. More information is here from the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Today, all subspecies except one are doing well

The Gould’s turkey is the subspecies that’s in need of additional conservation efforts. This turkey had almost disappeared in the U.S. The latest count has it at more than 1,000 birds. That’s an improvement, but more is needed to help the Gould’s turkey fully recover. Both Arizona and New Mexico have the bird on their wildlife action plans.

Wildlife action plans are step one in recovering this and other struggling species. Step two is for the plans to receive funding, which is why we’re urging Congress to fund the bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Wild turkeys don’t need your handouts

Wild turkeys get by just fine without any food from you. Don’t feed them. If they become accustomed to your presence, they may start to dominate you and other “lesser” creatures. Don’t let that happen.

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