|Male Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)|
Photo: KenThomas.us via Wikimedia
Several news outlets reported last week that a wild turkey smashed through the window of a Smoke Rise, NJ home and caused $5,000 in damage before smashing another window to escape pursuing police officers.
Due to its size, the suspect was assumed to be a male turkeys, referred to as toms and gobblers, which are much larger than the female hens. The average wild turkey weighs in at 20 lbs compared to the domestic variety which can be as large as 15-30 lbs. Domestic turkeys can be identified by their black legs, while wild turkeys have pink legs.
Wild turkeys are occasionally aggressive and have been known to peck at windows, automobile mirrors or reflections in shiny surfaces such as polished cars.
Wild turkeys had been extirpated from New Jersey by the mid-1800s because of their use as food and increasing loss of habitat. But the efforts to reintroduce them with 22 birds in 1977 were so successful that we now have an abundance of them throughout New Jersey. They have been moving more frequently into suburban neighborhoods. (I see them regularly in my own west Essex County town.)
The current population is estimated at 20,000 to 23,000.
|Wild turkey hen with poults (chicks) Photo: Kevin Cole via Wikimedia|
Rafters (flocks of turkeys) are more commonly seen in rural areas of the state. Wild turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. They prefer eating acorns, nuts, and various trees, including hazel, chestnut, hickory, and pinyon pine as well as various seeds, berries such as juniper and bearberry, roots and insects. Turkeys also occasionally consume amphibians and small reptiles such as lizards and snakes. Poults (chicks) have been observed eating insects, berries, and seeds. Wild turkeys often feed in cow pastures, sometimes visit back yard bird feeders, and favor croplands after harvest to scavenge seed on the ground. Turkeys are also known to eat a wide variety of grasses.
Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food. Early morning and late afternoon are the desired times for eating.During harsh winters, they can survive up to two weeks without eating, but will move into more populated areas.
Turkeys are neither endangered or threatened in NJ. Legal hunting of wild turkeys is regulated by the State Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. The NJ fall turkey hunting season is from October 26– November 2, 2013.
Wild turkeys evolved on the North and South American Continents exclusively and became a great game bird for Indians and settlers. Indians of the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America first hunted the wild turkey and also domesticated them. Spanish Explorers enjoyed them so much they took Mexican turkeys back to Europe in the 1500s.
New Jersey State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation