Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Wild turkeys in Ontario

Wild -- or not -- about turkeys

More than a decade after they were reintroduced to the forests of Ontario, experts are still divided on whether the prolific bird is a boon or a menace, Tom Spears wrote...

This is from an Ottawa Citizen article in Monday's paper. I guess it is a blessed relief reading about nature, MNR policy, and our tax dollars at work.

Australia's floods, Chile's earthquake, deaths in airplanes, murder and suicide bombers seem all too common. Success stories are great to read.

Yet, Spears did not represent both viewpoints. Some would say he did not present the truth. In fact, Karen Bellamy, Manager at MNR, tells me this isn't true and that many supported the reintroduction, and the it was the eastern wild turkey that was reintroduced.

Having written about this before, Wild Turkeys

 (about the reintroduction of turkeys into Ontario), I found that our American neighbours sent us a number of turkeys. The hunter's federations were the motivators, but reintroduction of extirpated species, cycle of life, All God's creatures, and all, seemed to be a good thing.

The article in The Citizen seemed a bit off to me. It suggested that the MNR didn't bring the 'right' species, i.e., the originals, a introduced a hybrid, and it has been ruining farmer's fields. I did some more research and found this:
([PDF]Proceedings of the 9th National Wild Turkey Symposium

As this symposium stated:

Ontario stats: 
  • 24,000 in 1999
  • 55,000 in 2004 with a 129% increase in population from an Eastern subspecies.
  • 80,000 in 2010

One section, by Karen Bellamy (Manager, Species at Risk at Ministry of Natural Resources; MNR) reported at the 2005 Wild Turkey Symposium:
  • within Ontario MNR has contributed to the growth of Ontario’s wild turkey population. In total, 4,400 birds.
  • Wild turkey restoration efforts began in 1984, and by 1987 a total of 274 birds were transferred into Ontario from 6 U.S. states. 
  • Active trap and transfer were trapped and released at 275 sites in Ontario between 1984 and March 2004 (Malhiot, 2005)

History of Wild Turkeys in Ontario

The eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) is native to Ontario and was historically common in southern parts of the province. It was extirpated from the province by 1909 due to unregulated hunting and the clearing of forests for agriculture in southern Ontario.

    There is sound scientiļ¬c basis for protecting the wild turkey and its habitat and for providing a sustainable harvest. Challenging issues will be 
    • social, political, and economic (changes driven by growth and demographic changes in the human population). 
    • Biological challenges, climate change and introduced species, are directly linked to human activity and much less tractable than the issues the wildlife profession faced in the past (Jenkins 2003).
    Primary management concerns were 
    • Weather, food availability, and habitat limitations. 
    • Nutritional value of winter diets is inversely related to snow depth, with ground diets dominated by acorns or corn of highest metabolizable energy. (Perkins)

    Now, the Citizen article says that our current estimates population of 80,000 turkeys arose from the introduction of 400 turkeys. My research told me about 4400 were harvested from 5 subspecies.
    With hunters only permitted to be taking 3 per year, the population has swollen.
    "The Birds of Canada, Canada's authoritative bird encyclopedia, says the turkey was probably gone from Canada by 1902 because of loss of forest habitat."

    And what is the purpose of turkeys, of it is not to balance the cycle of life? If the purpose was only for the hunters, then that is another issue. Here in SE Ontario, I have 7 acres of forest, and lots of the critters. The Citizen article states:
    These non-native, introduced hybrids represent subspecies (especially those from the central and western United States) that naturally occupy open scrubby land. They are a good apicultural choice, but represent lousy, inappropriate and destructive conservation and species management.

    Seeing as we have has 6, 15 and then a group of 28 visiting our feeders, perhaps they are surviving well here in our forest! Don't all poultry scratch the soil? The deer are much worse than the turkeys!
    I sent the Citizen article liink to Karen Bellamy, and her response:

    "Interesting article, but full of inaccuracies and misinformation from my perspective.  The turkeys in Ontario represent one of the greatest wildlife success stories that we will ever see in our lifetime.  This species that was extirpated in the province and in most of North America has been brought back from the brink of extinction and I think that is something that should be celebrated, not criticized.  If we could only be so lucky with many other species at risk.

    Many naturalists do not share the view that the restoration of this native species to the province was a doomed plan or a bad idea.  In fact they were very supportive all along.
    I do understand the complaints from farmers and have spent considerable hours investigating many of these.  While turkeys can do some damage to crops, it is generally minimal and not even in the same league as the crop damage that deer and raccoon can do.
    There has been extensive work done on turkey genetics and the birds in Ontario are not some funny hybrid, but are the real McCoy.    The wild Turkeys that were used to restore the species in ON were pure Eastern Wild Turkeys, the same subspecies that was in the Province historically.   In fact, they likely have the greatest genetic fitness of any wild turkey on the continent, due to very careful planned movements of birds across southern Ontario."

    Research, further reading...

    Proceedings of the 9th National Wild Turkey Symposium

    • Allison, R. M. 1976. The history of the wild turkey in Ontario.
    • Canadian Field Naturalist 90:481–485.
    • Malhiot, M. 2005. 2004 Ontario wild turkey status report. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
    • Marshall, I. B., and P. H. Schut. 1999. A national ecological framework for Canada 
    • ecostrat/intro.html . Accessed 11 May 2005.
    • Nguyen, L. P. 2001. Feasibility of transplanting eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) on the Precambrian Shield in central Ontario. Thesis, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
    • Nguyen, L. P., J. Hamr, and G. H. Parker. 2003. Survival and reproduction of wild turkey hens in central Ontario. Wilson Bulletin 115:131–139.
      Thanksgiving turkey (my original post!)Oct 11, 2009


    Yogi♪♪♪ said...

    Wow, what a post.

    I guess that I'm a dummy. I like wild turkeys and I thought re-introduction would be a good thing but obviously the situation is way more complicated than what i would think.

    It still hard to get solid info on things. Looks like you rooted out some good data.

    Red said...

    You make a good point about these birds not being the original species. The fear here is that farmed bison will escape and the farmed bison are a much different animal than the truly wild bison because of selective breeding practices.It would also appear that some of the original preditors are missing.

    Heather said...

    This was interesting since we have about 30 turkeys that visit every few days. They fly across the river en masse then wander through the garden. It's a really great sight and I'm pleased to know a little more about them.

    Jenn Jilks said...

    Thing is, Red, Yogi, that is what the Citizen writer said, but it is not true. Karen Bellamy told me that they are the wild eastern species here. I was appalled. THey are the same species!

    Nancy Tapley said...

    Thanks to global warming, the turkeys, (real species, or imposters) are doing really well, thank you very much. BEtween the turkeys, and the deer, I'd suggest you curtain plans for gardens this year. In Bancroft, re-introduced elk have so decimated some farm crops that the farmers have simply abandoned the concept and moved away. Animals like to eat, too, and aren't choosy. We wage a constant skirmish with the critters that covet our gardens. We like to eat, too!