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State Biologist Talks Turkey at Environmental Commission Meeting

Eastern Wild Turkey2

Anthony McBride, of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Apparently, single young men at 80s dance parties aren’t the only creatures on Earth who talk a lot and strut their stuff to attract the opposite sex.

Turns out wild turkeys, do it, too.

That and other facts about eastern wild turkeys were offered during a presentation at the Oct. 21 Environmental Commission meeting. Tony McBride, a biologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, spent about an hour talking about the history, proclivities and other aspects of the fowl known scientifically as “Meleagris gallopavo.”

The talk was attended by about 60 people, including a contingent from Cub Scout Pack 195.

Wild turkeys, McBride said, were native to the New Jersey area, living in the vast forests of what would become the Garden State.

But expansion in the 1800s – and the accompanying deforestation – led to the local extermination of the species in the state by about 1900, he said.

Efforts to re-establish wild turkeys in the state failed until the 1970s, when turkeys in Vermont and New York were trapped and transported to New Jersey, he said.

Wide, expansive woodland areas in Sussex, Warren and Morris counties and the Pinelands in the southern part of the state were chosen, he said. While teh Pinelands didn’t work out too well, the other areas did.

Large populations can also be found in Hunterdon, Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland and Cape May counties, he said.

Fish and Wildlife trap the turkeys to make readings on them before letting them go, McBride said.

“Trapping them can be really difficult,” he said.”Turkeys are very wary.”

The trapping is done in the winter months, he said, when the turkeys flock together to look for food.

“They look for places where there is going to be a food supply in the winter,” he said.

And what about that gobbling?

McBride said that’s a siren call from the males to the females in breeding season in March and April.

The males gobble and strut, making themselves look bigger and more attractive to the hens, he said. McBride said the hens generally ignore the gobblers, forcing the males to chase the females.

“It’s all designed for them to be dominant and impress the hens,” he said.

Fun Facts About Wild Turkeys:

  • There are 23,000 wild turkeys in New Jersey.
  • They can fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 mph.
  • They can run at speeds of up to 12 mph.
  • At night, they fly into trees to sleep among the branches, keeping them relatively safe from prey. Because poults – newly born turkeys – don’t fly until they’re two weeks old, hens sleep on the ground with them during that time.
  • Turkeys have “lightning-fast” reflexes.
  • It’s hard for turkeys to walk in deep, fluffy snow. They have to wait until a crust forms on the snow, upon which they walk.
  • Turkeys can get aggressive toward humans – especially in breeding season – and have been known to attack their reflections in cars and windows.

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