Going wild

A pair of Rio Grande subspecies wild turkeys hold a mating-season stare down. The National Wild Turkey Federation estimates there are 5,000 Rio Grande turkeys in Colorado, mostly in eastern and southeastern Colorado with few scattered along the Colorado River near Utah.

As we slide into the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s offer a shout-out to the wild turkey, a bird as much a survivor as the most indomitable Mayflower Pilgrim, and today certainly more numerous.

And unlike those original Pilgrims, wild turkeys are true natives of North America, with at least one of the five species (Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Gould’s) found in every state except Alaska.

Colorado has two species —the Merriam’s, the most widely spread species, and the Rio Grande, which around here can be found scattered along the Colorado River after migrating from Utah.

“The increase of wild turkeys in Colorado is due to their adaptability, high reproductive capability and careful management of hunting,” said Brian Dreher, a senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Dreher said Colorado wildlife managers began developing strategies to increase the wild turkey population in the early 1980s. Over the ensuing years, the agency successfully transplanted wild turkeys into most of the available habitat in the state.

“In 2013, there will be additional hunting opportunities in game management unit 30 just north of Grand Junction,” said Brad Petch, a senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  “There will still be a youth-only hunt, but we’ve added additional hunting licenses available to adult hunters.”

The National Wild Turkey Federation estimates there are about 7 million wild turkeys in the U.S., an amazing recovery for a bird that was nearly extinct 70 years ago.

Talking turkey, with facts from the NWTF:

■ Wild turkeys, now almost 7 million strong, were almost extinct in the early 1900s.

■ Wild turkeys can run up to 25 mph. Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest-known human, averaged 23.35 mph during his world-record 100 meters.

■ Wild turkeys were argued by Benjamin Franklin to be a more appropriate choice than bald eagles as our national bird.

■ Wild turkeys rarely weigh more than 24 pounds; domestic turkeys regularly grow to more than 40 pounds.

■ Wild turkeys, which have as many as 6,000 feathers, can fly as fast as 55 mph. Most domestic turkeys are too heavy to fly.

■ Wild turkeys have much sharper vision than humans and can see 360 degrees simply by turning their head.

■ Wild turkeys can make at least 28 different vocalizations, with gobbles heard up to one mile away.

■ Wild turkeys roost (sleep) in trees, often as high as 50 feet off the ground.

■ Alabama has the most (estimated) wild turkeys with nearly 500,000 birds.

■ Colorado has an estimated 25,000 wild turkeys, including 5,000 Rio Grande subspecies and 20,000 Merriam’s subspecies.

Colorado has both a spring and fall turkey season, with hunters allowed up to five birds each year. This includes two bearded turkeys in the spring, one either-sex turkey in the fall and two beardless turkeys in the late season.

See complete information in Colorado Parks and Wildlife turkey brochure at wildlife.state.co.us.


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