Turkeys as Scapegoats
By Brad Allen

As evidenced by the four wild turkey bills in this current Legislative session, Mainers, especially those who wish to eradicate turkeys, have a lot of opinions about wild turkeys. Why do wild turkeys command so much attention in the first place? I think itís because, as wildlife goes, they are so darn obvious. Turkeys are active during each and every daylight hour, unlike many of Maineís wildlife species that are active primarily at night.

Now Iím not naive. Wild turkeys do cause damage and significant issues, as do most wild animals in Maine. Turkeys are especially problematic to motorists who run into them with at high speeds. For this, I am truly sorry. A 23 pound turkey fighting his reflection in the side of your brand new BMW would distress me as well. I didnít say they were intelligent. Or 100 wild turkeys in your trench silo defecating all over your dairy cowís food is also cause for concern. Unpalatable perhaps, but seldom are disease agents transmitted this way. And when the turkeys eat your raspberries, it is a problem. These are all legitimate issues that Inland Fisheries and Wildlife handles capably through their nuisance wildlife policy.

Maine has been my home for over 50 years. I live in a rural portion of Hancock County. I encourage and welcome wildlife to my property. I plant shrubs and trees that produce fruit for wildlife. I like to see wildlife, every day, and I gladly share my property with all Maineís abundant wildlife. Turkeys are welcome as well. Yes, they sometimes eat my blueberries, but so do bluebirds. Turkeys defecate on my lawn near my bird feeders, but so do deer and all the other birds. For the most part the rain washes it away, hopefully before my Labrador retriever finds it. In fact, more than a few veterinarians have implicated wild turkey feces as a potential reason as to why your dog is sick. I have yet to find any literature that supports this assertion. Are wild turkeys tearing apart your lawn? Well, perhaps itís the insect pest so common in the Bangor area. You deal with the grubs and the birds will go away. But the 26 turkeys in my yard this morning are easy to blame when the exact cause of a wildlife issue is unknown. Below are some of the other myths and partial truths Iíve come across over the last few years.

Turkeys are a host for ticks that harbor Lyme disease. Researchers have looked and, in general, ticks prefer their blood meal from mammals. In fact, turkeys are poor hosts for ticks. Turkeys may even do some good by eating ticks when clumped clinging to the vegetation. I hear free ranging chickens work for some.

Turkeys do not eat partridge eggs. Turkeys do not out-compete deer for food. The two specieís diets are just not that similar and they donít compete for any food resource that is limited. Turkeys do eat acorns and apples, like deer, but when Mother Nature provides these resources, thereís generally enough to go around. While turkeys may eat all the apples under the apple tree near your favorite deer hunting stand, no deer will die as a result of this loss of food.

Myth: Turkeys carry the parasitic infection called coccidiosis that is responsible for cattle and calf deaths. Turkeys do sometimes become infected with a bird strain of coccidiosis, but the protozoan that infects mammals is a different strain and is not transmitted from birds to mammals. Another untruth was that turkeys were responsible for a sheep die off in mid coast Maine two years ago. This was very unfortunate but it turned that the animals succumbed to eating some very moldy grain.

Turkeys are also blamed for eating large quantities of agricultural crops, including corn, apples, blueberries, grapes in wine country, etc. Partially true, they do eat some of manís manipulated crops, but the amount they eat is generally not that large and turkeys are generally down the list of offending wild animals. In general, the damage caused by wild turkeys is overstated. Again, turkeys are blamed for all the wildlife losses for which they are only partially responsible. So please, letís live with them, watch them, hunt them, and enjoy this bird that was extirpated from Maine nearly 200 years ago. Iíll conclude by thanking certain individuals and the State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation for all your support by speaking the truth about wild turkeys.

Brad Allen is a wildlife biologist with MDIF&W. He is also an avid bird hunter and gun dog man. He would be pleased to receive feedback on his articles. E-mail him at brad.allen@maine.gov

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