Thanksgiving…Christmas…There are many holidays where we celebrate a meal with turkey!

As a cultural symbol, turkeys are very important and they are also a popular harvested game species in Ontario.

But did you know that wild turkeys were once locally extinct from Ontario in the early 1900’s?

Although hard to believe, it’s true. Overhunting and habitat loss related to urban development were to blame for wiping out the wild turkey population.

So how did they return?

In the early 1980’s, 4,000 turkeys were trapped and transferred from healthy populations in the northern United States to be re-introduced in several locations in Ontario.

Since then, Ontario’s wild turkey population has exploded – but there are no reliable estimates of just how much it’s grown!

Because wild turkeys are a popular hunting animal, it is important to understand how many turkeys there are and how this population is growing and changing over time.

PhD candidate, Jennifer Baici, is currently completing her doctoral degree at Trent University in the Environmental and Life Sciences Program studying wild turkeys.

She is studying several aspects of the wild turkey social structure and behaviour.

Her research aims to answer the questions:

  1. What is the current population size of Ontario’s Wild Turkey Population?
  2. How are they distributed across the province?

Jennifer used several methods to calculate just how big the wild turkey population in Ontario really is.

During the winter from December to March, she collected her data. This is when the turkeys form large flocks and are most visible against the snow-covered landscape.

Here is how she gathered information:

1) Eye-countshe began counting turkeys in a small subset of the province – Peterborough County. Using a helicopter and a truck, she was able to collect population data about the turkeys.

2) Citizen Science – she asked residents living in Peterborough County to submit wild turkey observations in the county to eBird or iNaturalist, both popular online tools that engage the public to help monitor population changes

Jennifer was thrilled with the number of wild turkey sightings submitted from Peterborough County. In fact, public engagement was so successful that the following year, in 2018, she requested winter wild turkey observations from citizen scientists across Ontario! She then received over 6,000 observations of wild turkeys from Point Pelee all the way up to Sault St. Marie!

Although Jennifer is still sifting through the data, she knows one thing – asking the public to help report wild turkey sightings was an excellent idea!

So far, Jennifer has found that wild turkeys are prevalent in many areas of the province. They are a generalist species, meaning they can thrive in a variety of habitat types.

In the winter, however, they are more selective due to harsher conditions. She expects to see relationships between where turkeys are observed in the winter, as the turkeys will likely choose areas where there are adequate supplemental food sources, like bird feeders and agricultural resources.

Wild turkeys are doing very well in Ontario and their population has been stable or growing for many years – which is great news for hunters.

This is a great success story where a species has been reintroduced to an area and allowed to thrive. It can be used as a case study for other species that may be in decline and can be reintroduced successfully. It is also a great indicator that the public wants to be involved in scientific research to see species survive!

It is important to understand what has allowed the turkeys to survive and to involve the public through online tools when studying wildlife.

Thank you Jennifer for this great research and for involving the public in your findings.

My experience at Trent University as a graduate student has been great! I’m fortunate enough to have my field site overlap with Trent University property, so sometimes I get to see my study turkeys right on campus. Graduate school comes with many challenges, but Trent has provided me with many opportunities to connect with peers and build community with like-minded people.