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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Gobble time

By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

If you’re seeing wild turkeys in unusual places you’re not alone. This time of year, turkeys are stopping traffic and cutting through backyards as they strut and gobble for the attention of mates and search for food.

According to the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM), eastern wild turkey restoration is a rare success story in Rhode Island and much of the eastern portion of the United States. The birds were nearly hunted to extinction by the early 1900s.

Between 1980 and 1996, 137 were reintroduced on public land in Rhode Island. Today, more than 3,500 reside in the state, down from a high of 5,000. Predators, such as coyotes and foxes, and abnormal weather are suspected of lowering the population. Despite the decline, the population is considered healthy.

Wild turkeys reside primarily in wooded areas but are adaptable and growing in urban and suburban neighborhoods where bird food is common. The average weight for adult males is 20 pounds. They can fly for short bursts and they roost in trees at night. Thanksgiving turkeys can't fly, however.

Wildlife biologist Brian Tefft studies wild turkeys for the DEM. He said the turkeys are not aggressive, but recommends that residents refrain from feeding them, so the gobblers (males) and hens (females) don’t develop a dependency on humans for food. Turkey sightings in residential areas have been reported in East Providence, Providence and Portsmouth.

“There’s no rhyme or reason how they got there,” Tefft said. “We let nature take its course.”

Turkey hunting began in 1986 is now open for two seasons in Rhode Island: late April to late May and bow-hunting only in October and November. A turkey calling devise must be used to hunt. Stalking or sneaking up on wild turkeys is prohibited.

Much of the hunting occurs on private land in Exeter, Richmond, Coventry, Foster and Hopkinton. Arcadia and Big River wild management areas are the top public hunting areas.

Click here for an array of wild turkey sounds.