Have you ever come to a screeching halt on the road to avoid colliding with a flock of wild turkeys? Been spooked half to death by a gobble when walking in the woods? Or seen a flock of turkeys on your property and wondered how these non-native birds came to your neighborhood, and if they offer any benefit to the land? This article will highlight the history of turkeys in the region and provide insight on how wild turkeys in the West Kootenay are impacting ecosystems.
In the 1960s there was a push by local hunters in the Creston Valley to add a population of wild turkeys. In the following years, local dairy farmers worried that the increasing turkey population would reduce their dairy production as the turkey’s gobble would frighten the cattle. These local farmers put pressure on the government who responded by relocating the population to Fort Steele, BC. The relocation was of mixed success; turkeys were absent from the Creston Valley for a short time, but the relocation put them near another growing turkey population south of the border, and this population slowly migrated northwards to southern B.C. As females can lay 10-12 eggs each year, their population skyrocketed over the following years.
In 2004, the wild turkey population in southern BC was estimated at 4000-5000 birds. This population consisted of three different subspecies: Merriam’s turkey (M. g. merriami), Rio Grande (M. g. intermedia) and a suspected hybrid between the two.
Role In Ecosystem
Wild turkeys are opportunistic foragers, and a large part of their impact on the ecosystem and agriculture relates to their diet. They eat primarily pesky insects, such a ticks and grasshoppers, which can decimate your garden, therefore, having a flock of wild turkeys on your property can be great for pest management.
However, local biologists have observed wild turkeys seasonally feeding on small rodents, frogs, salamanders, and snakes, including species at risk such as the western skink and the rubber boa. Wild turkeys also eat plants, therefore their impact on native plant communities will inevitably become more apparent as their populations increase. These diet preferences may also create competition for food with native species furthering their impacts on the ecosystem.
Wild turkeys have often been blamed for crop or property damage. A study at Purdue University, found racoons and deer were responsible for 95 percent of crop damage and the wild turkey was getting the blame.
In the Kootenays, you don’t need a permit or tag to hunt wild turkeys, making these birds a valuable recreational and harvesting resource for British Columbians. Additionally, wild turkeys and their eggs are food for many local wildlife species such as the peregrine falcon, an endangered bird species in B.C, the Canadian lynx, pine marten, and owls. Given that wild turkeys occupy a variety of habitats and serve as both predator and prey during their lifecycle, their impact on biodiversity is inconclusive.
A local biologist claims that, “Future intervention such as an increased hunting season could serve as a tool for population control.”
As the wild turkey populations increase, so do their impacts on native plants and wildlife. There has been little research on wild turkeys in B.C., and most decisions are based on U.S. studies and management techniques, therefore their fate in the southern interior of B.C. is yet to be determined.
Anne-Marie Lefebvre and Ethan Castilloux are students attending Selkirk College’s Recreation Fish and Wildlife program.