As the dark begins to fade and the grey light of the morning appears on the Eastern skyline you can hear the first sounds echo through the forest. Was that what I thought it was? It was! It was a gobble from a wild turkey. Off in the distance blasting down from his roost in a tall White Oak tree the first gobble sets off other gobbles, then more and more, as if they are competing for something; competing for territory. This scene can be played out every morning from late March through the end of May, but it has not always been the case. The Eastern Wild Turkey is a conservation success story.
Iowa’s landscape has no doubt changed since settlers began to arrive in the early 1800s. According to the 2010 Iowa Trends in Wildlife report by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources during the first land survey of the newly formed state in 1859 nearly 7 million acres of forest were present in Iowa. One hundred years later when the second land survey was conducted 63% of the state’s forests had been lost leaving 2.2 million acres. Wildlife was undoubtedly affected by this deforestation and the Wild Turkey was extirpated from the landscape by the early 1900s.
Restoration attempts began by the 1920s with pen reared turkeys. The efforts were in vain and deemed a failure until 1955 when an invention changed the way the turkeys were to be reintroduced. The Rocket Trap allowed biologists to trap wild turkeys to be relocated to Iowa.
Wild turkeys can be found throughout the United States and even Mexico. With 5 subspecies of wild turkeys each has adapted and is well suited for its habitat. The Rio Grande and the Merriams Wild Turkey were the species first transplanted to Iowa. The birds, not being adapt to the native Oak and Hickory forests were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until 1966 when 3 male gobblers and 10 female hen Eastern Wild Turkeys were released at the Shimek State Forest in Lee County. The release was a success and it was obvious that the Eastern Subspecies was the species to use for further reintroduction efforts.
Reintroduction of the Eastern Wild Turkey in Iowa continued with over 250 releases over a 40 year span. The last release was in Linn County in 2001. Today, turkeys are a part of the landscape and can be seen picking insects and seeds from fields in all 99 counties of Iowa.
Without the reintroduction thousands of outdoor enthusiasts would not be able to enjoy the outdoors every Spring listening to and in search of the Eastern Wild Turkey.