Look out for turkeys

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A turkey hen and her poults (camouflaging with the dirt and grass) out and about in Vineyard Haven. — Eunki Seonwoo

The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is calling for people to report any turkey sightings for the state’s annual Wild Turkey Brood Survey, which takes place from June 1 to August 31. 

“Your wild turkey reports help our biologists determine productivity, compare long-term reproductive success, and estimate fall harvest potential. Reports come from all regions of the state, from our most rural communities to our most densely populated areas,” the announcement read. “Please note that turkey nesting success can vary annually in response to weather conditions, predation and predator populations, and habitat characteristics.”

MassWildlife asks participants to differentiate among hens (female turkeys), poults (newly hatched turkeys), jakes (juvenile males), and toms (adult males) in their reports, taking particular care when counting the small poults, since they “can be tough to see in tall grass or brush.” A chart telling the differences between male and female turkeys is on the MassWildlife website

Although there are plenty of turkeys on the Island, their feral rather than truly wild bloodlines made Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi uncertain whether MassWildlife would count them in the survey.

Bellincampi told The Times a native population of turkeys was present in mainland Massachusetts until they became extinct in 1951. She said turkeys were reintroduced to Massachusetts from upstate New York in 1972, but none were reintroduced to Martha’s Vineyard since “there were no records of wild turkeys on the Island.”

Where did these non-native birds come from? 

“We don’t know,” Bellincampi said, although she did mention the possibility of previous poultry farms being the source. 

When asked, MassWildlife communications coordinator Emily Stolarski initially said, “We are only interested in wild turkey brood numbers.” However, after talking with a MassWildlife turkey biologist and learning “more about the unusual history of turkeys on Martha’s Vineyard,” Stolarski said brood surveys will be accepted from the Island. 

“There’s not a reliable way to determine whether a turkey is truly a wild turkey or whether it is a feral domesticated bird. We will accept brood surveys from anyone (and any birds) on M.V.,” Stolarski said in an email.

Those who would like to participate in the survey can either complete the forms online at bit.ly/3GNTNRR or fill out and send a paper report. The survey form can be found at bit.ly/3NfAaVd. Paper forms can be sent to the mailing address at MassWildlife Field Headquarters, Attn: Brood Survey, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, MA 01581.

MassWildlife asks participants to report their turkey findings through only one of these methods, to avoid duplicate numbers.