Monday, June 24, 2013

Turkey Wars: Farmers vs. Wild Turkeys


With blue heads, bright red wattles and spectacular tiers of bronze, black and beige feathers, wild turkeys can be exceptionally beautiful creatures. Benjamin Franklin himself, in a letter to his daughter in 1784, wrote that the turkey, compared to the bald eagle, was “a much more respectable Bird.”

While they once roamed most of the United States and Canada, the birds were essentially wiped out by the early 1900s, as hungry settlers hunted the birds for dinner and land was cleared to make way for agricultural land and cities. Through reintroduction programs started in the 1940s, mostly by hunters, their numbers began to climb again, setting the stage for what was perhaps an inevitable showdown: farmers versus wild turkeys.

Depending on who you ask, the birds are either marauding, wily animals that ruin crops and contaminate cattle feed as they roam across farmland in huge packs. Or they’re gorgeous, sensitive birds that are a delight to hunt and unfairly blamed for crop damage inflicted by deer and raccoons. Everyone does agree on one thing: numbers of wild turkeys are increasing in many parts of North America, from Ontario, where they’ve gobbled grapes off entire vineyards, to Staten Island, NY. And it’s making farmers nervous.

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