This morning I went for a 3 1/2 mile walk and came across a large tom turkey standing on the side of the road. A little later in my walk I saw another turkey, this time a hen, about twenty feet up in a tree. Two turkeys in 3 1/2 miles isn’t exactly extraordinary nowadays in New England, but I was on the Cape and you don’t think of turkeys and Cape Cod. But like everywhere else in New England the turkey population has exploded.
When I was a kid running around in the woods of various towns in Middlesex County, Massachusetts I never saw a wild turkey. The first wild turkeys I ever saw were in South Kent, Connecticut in 1993. I remember it because it was a unique experience at the time. But Litchfield County is where you might expect to see wild turkey. It’s also where I saw my first coyote in the wild. Now you can see turkey almost anywhere.
This exponential turkey population growth took place while we (most of us anyway) weren’t paying attention. Back in maybe 2007-2008 I recall seeing a few here and there but it was still a novel experience. Today in Southern New Hampshire it’s novel if I go a day without seeing or hearing one. There are an estimated 40,000+ turkey in New Hampshire today, and an estimated 200,000+ in New England.
It wasn’t always this way. When Europeans first settled in New England they started clearing the land for farms. This destroyed the habitat of the wild animals that lived there, and those who didn’t die out from lack of habitat were eliminated through hunting. Turkey, deer, pigeons, wolves, bear, and countless other animals suffered the same fate. By 1850 turkey were largely extinct in New England.
Efforts to re-introduce turkeys began in the 1930’s, first with releasing domesticated turkey into the wild. When that failed wild turkey were caught in Upstate New York and released in New England states. Over time those turkey reproduced and the population growth began to accelerate. One Tom can mate with many hens, which can hatch 6-12 eggs. With few predators it’s easy to see why the population exploded. Today they’re seemingly everywhere, including a little peninsula jutting out into Buzzards Bay.