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Turkeys rebound with help of DEC

November 22, 2016
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

At just about the end of World War II, there were no wild turkeys in New York state. But a concerted effort by the Conservation Department (now the state Department of Environmental Conservation) reversed this trend. New York now boasts one of the most robust populations of wild turkeys in the northeast.

According to the DEC, turkeys are native North Americans, and may have even predated any human inhabitants on this continent. Turkeys have also historically occupied much of New York. However, due to a combination of factors, turkeys were eliminated from the state by the 1840s.

Two main factors contributed to the loss of one of the largest native birds in New York. First, turkeys prefer wooded habitat, and somewhere around 75 percent of the state had been cleared for farming by the end of the 19th century. Second was the fact that turkeys taste good, and back then there were no regulations on hunting, so many people hunted the birds year-round.

Article Photos

Eastern turkeys, like the ones pictured, were extirpated from New York in the mid-1840s, but have made a comeback as a result of DEC?efforts. New York’s turkey population is now more than 250,000.
Photo — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

As farming declined, abandoned fields began to regrow trees and shrubs, meaning there was more suitable habitat for turkeys in New York than there had been. The DEC says that much of the Southern Tier of the state could support turkeys by the late 1940s, and in or around 1948 a wild population of turkeys crossed the border from Pennsylvania, becoming the first wild turkey flock in New York in more than 100 years.

These Pennsylvanian interlopers sparked an interest in restoring turkeys to the rest of the state. Through fits and starts, the Conservation Department began to encourage the breeding and release of the birds.

A pheasant farm in Chenango County was converted, and from 1952 through 1960, more than 3,100 turkeys were released around the state. The release of these birds was a universal failure, as the farm-raised animals were not wild enough to avoid predation.

However, the state didn't give up. The Conservation Department embarked on an effort to trap wild turkeys in Allegany State Park for release elsewhere in the state.

"Most of the trapping was done in the winter when natural foods are not abundant. A flock of turkeys was lured with piles of corn or other grain," the DEC says on its turkey page. "When most of the birds were concentrated on the food pile, the turkeys were captured by shooting a large net over them. Wildlife biologists and technicians put the birds into crates, loaded the crates onto trucks, and drove the birds to new territories that did not have wild turkeys."

Typically, the captured birds consisted of eight to 10 females and a few males. The captured/released flocks were enough to form the nucleus of a new flock, and since the birds were wild when captured, they did not succumb to predation the way the farmed birds did.

The DEC says since the first capture in Allegany State Park in 1959, more than 1,400 turkeys have been moved within the state, but those nucleus flocks have been wildly successful and the DEC now estimates there are between 250,000 and 300,000 turkeys here. The population is solid enough that New York now ships captured turkeys to surrounding states like Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Ontario in an effort to further spread the range of wild turkeys.

The DEC also asks the public for help each year in tracking turkey populations. In August, the DEC wants people to be on the lookout for turkeys in one of the DEC's citizen science programs. The turkey survey takes place after hens and poults (young turkeys) are more mobile, and helps wildlife staff track the success of that year's breeding.

The summer survey asks participants to count the number of adult and young turkeys they see. There is a card to be filled out and mailed in, or survey results can be submitted online. For more information on the turkey survey, visit

This year's survey resulted in the highest number of flocks (737) observed since 2002, but the DEC says that may be a function of increased awareness of the survey and the ease of submitting results online.

But the survey found that there was about 2.8 poults per hen this year, which is slightly lower than the average of three poults. The DEC also notes that reproductive success has gone down somewhat over the last 10 years, although the population of turkeys in New York is still holding strong.

To learn more about turkeys in New York, visit



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