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DRUMMER FEATURE JUNE 3, 2018

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Turkeys and Pheasants: living together

 

It has been a very busy spring. I've been traveling extensively, and giving numerous presentations to thousands of participants across five states. I really enjoy getting out to meet so many people who come to my presentations and enjoy nature as much as I do.

My speaking engagements usually last just over an hour or so, and are followed by a short question and answer period. I get all sorts of questions ranging from "What is my favorite bird?" to "How do I capture specific images?" But, recently I was asked a question that really set me back on my heels. I could almost not believe what I heard.

The question started out more of an observation, and went something like this - "I've been seeing more and more turkeys than I have ever seen before in my life. They seem to be over-populating. And, I am not seeing as many pheasants as I have in the past. I've heard that turkeys seek out pheasant nests and kill the eggs and baby pheasants. Why don't we reduce the number of turkeys to help out the pheasants?"

At first I was stunned and didn't know what to say. There was just so many things wrong with this statement and question. All I could think about was that I had been a failure in my mission as an educator of all things wild. I managed to answer the question, but not before apologizing that what I was going to say was not meant to offend or upset the person who asked the question.

Even now, while writing this column, I am having troubles figuring out where to start answering this type of question. So, here it goes again…..

Yes, you are seeing more wild turkey these days. In many states, the wild turkey was completely killed off by 1900. It was an important food source for settlers and Native Americans alike. But, because of this, they were nearly driven into extinction at the hands of man. For decades, we didn't see turkeys in the wild. 

This left an ecological niche that needed to be filled. So, the ring-necked pheasant, a non-native bird originally from Asia, was introduced to the U.S. for hunting opportunities. The first attempts at introducing the pheasant occurred in the late 1770's, and again in the early 1800's. These early attempts were not successful. It wasn't until the mid-1900's when enough pheasants were released that pheasants started to populate on their own.

Even now, hundreds of thousands of pheasants are released each year in many states for hunting opportunities, which supplements the wild population dramatically. Some believe that without the constant release of captive breed birds, the pheasant population would decrease dramatically, and perhaps the population wouldn't be able to survive on their own. It is also said that these captive-bred pheasants usually don't live through their first year in the wild.

Meanwhile, the wild turkey, which is a native bird, was also reintroduced to many parts of the country. Slowly, over time, it has moved back into former range, and now can be seen all over the place. This bird does well on its own and doesn't need supplemental releases of birds. Since they are native, and evolved to this habitat, it is doing well all on its own.

It is a complete myth that wild turkeys are hurting or killing pheasants. Extensive research by Pheasants Forever shows no effect on pheasant populations caused by turkeys. A single study out of Florida back in the 1930's noted a single instance of a turkey destroying quail eggs. However, no biological study since then has documented turkeys damaging quail or pheasant eggs or chicks. Considering that hundreds of studies that have been done on turkeys over the past 100 years, it is considered conclusive that turkeys don't influence pheasant populations.

I think pheasants are marvelous birds and just like other birds. Just because a bird was introduced into North America, we shouldn't be playing the native verses non-native card when trying to figure out if something is good or bad. I believe all birds are good and are deserving of our respect and admiration.

The key to sustain any wildlife is first education, along with strong conservation and large-scale preservation of habitat. Without these key components, we wouldn't have either turkeys or pheasants. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photo wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.nature smart.com.


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