Did you know that wild turkeys are native to Wisconsin and that they were eliminated from the Badger State in the 1880s due to over exploitation, unregulated hunting and habitat loss? Would it surprise you that wild turkeys are now found in all 72 Wisconsin counties? The re-introduction of turkeys is one of Wisconsin’s great conservation success stories.
After several false starts of re-introducing turkeys with partial game farm upbringing in Wisconsin, the birds did not survive very well, or at all, because they didn’t have the wilderness survival skills needed to survive.
Fortunes changed dramatically in the 1970s when totally wild turkeys were introduced from Missouri into the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin. These birds did exceptionally well with the key being most had the survival skills needed to cope with any problems that posed a threat to them after they were released. As an interesting side note, Missouri was to receive three Wisconsin ruffed grouse in exchange for each wild turkey given to Wisconsin. Missouri provided Wisconsin with a total of about 368 turkeys. Translocation of wildlife between states is commonly used to establish or bolster wildlife populations.
The wild-captured Missouri turkeys did so well that the WI DNR started trapping offspring of the original birds and released them into other parts of the state. The rest is history as they successfully recolonized throughout the state. As of 2017, the DNR estimated more than 350,000 turkeys live in the state.
Turkeys have flourished in our own Price County as evidenced by our Fifield-Park Falls Audubon Christmas count (CBC) data. When Mary Lou and I started this count in 1965, no wild turkeys were counted from 1965 until 2004 except for one spotted in 1993. However, several hundred wild turkeys have been routinely counted from 2004 until our last count in 2018. We look forward to seeing how many we spot on our CBC, Dec. 14, 2019.
A lot of people and agencies, too many to mention here, had a vision and did a lot of hard work to get the wild turkey back into its native habitats occupied before European settlement. Let us give ‘thanks’ at this Thanksgiving time for all their efforts, so that we can enjoy seeing and hunting this iconic bird in Wisconsin.