Recently, I was awoken by some terribly loud tapping and banging noises coming from my front yard. Upon investigation, there stood a trio of Florida wild turkeys. One of which, was sparring with his own reflection, in the side of my car. Smaller and darker than your usual, farm-raised, Thanksgiving-table turkeys, Osceolas, like the ones I had just encountered, are quite strong and fast. Toms, the males, have spurs that are extremely sharp, some measuring 2 inches or longer. They are quite wary, and are known to run or fly up into the trees when approached.
I shooed the confused tom away, and off went his buddies, gobbling along with him, leaving minimal destruction behind them. A few moments later, I saw my panic stricken neighbor, being chased by the same flock, as he frantically peddled his bike down the road.
After helping my neighbor escape the feathered gang, we chatted about how rare it had once been to spot wild turkeys, but in recent years they seem to be quite plentiful.
“When we think about threatened or endangered species’ success stories, it’s often the recovery of our beloved bald eagles or maybe even the American alligator population that bounced back after major conservation efforts. But usually, when thinking about conservation, the wild turkey might not come to mind,” said my neighbor, Clyde Mitchell, who is coincidentally a retired wildlife biologist. Still huffing and puffing, after his recent brush with the fowl crew, he stopped to catch his breath.
When he could manage to speak again, he went on, “Over-hunting, plus clearing of habitats used by turkeys for roosting, had once all but eradicated our wild turkeys. It was widely believed that wild turkeys would completely disappear, but thanks to citizen conservationists, they didn’t.”
He told me that for many years now, conservationists have taken various actions that allowed populations to make a significant comeback. From imposing and enforcing new game and habitat protection laws, to wild turkey reintroduction, establishment of the Forest Service, and the Endangered Species Act, wild turkeys have again begun to thrive.
Both Eastern wild turkeys and Osceolas are found in central Florida and their habitat stretches down to the south-most part of the state, while Eastern turkeys are further north and into the panhandle. Locally, Osceolas can be spotted in small flocks, or rafters- the proper term for a group of turkeys, running through the pastures and citrus groves along CR78, Fort Denaud, and apparently even in my own neighborhood.
So, as you gather during this holiday, beware, and have a safe and happy Turkey Day!