DEEP: 1975 - Wild Turkeys Reintroduced to Connecticut

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Environmental Accomplishments of the Past 40 Years

Wild Turkeys Reintroduced to Connecticut
(1975)

Background

Two native species, the wild turkey and the fisher share a common story. Both were abundant in Connecticut when the first settlers arrived. Both became scarce from a combination of forest logging and clearing for agriculture. Turkey were gone from Connecticut by the early 1800s. Overexploitation contributed to the decline of fisher causing them to disappear from the Connecticut landscape by the 1900s.

Early attempts at turkey restoration through artificial propagation were unsuccessful. The major breakthrough in efforts to restore wild turkeys occurred when free-roaming birds were live-captured in Maine and released in Connecticut. The turkeys were captured using a rocket-net: A lightweight net fired by rockets from a remote blind and carried over turkeys that have been attracted to the area by bait. Between 1975 and 1992, 356 turkeys were released at 18 sites throughout the state. These releases and subsequent population expansion have resulted in the successful restoration of wild turkeys to all 169 Connecticut towns.

Fisher reestablished themselves naturally in Eastern Connecticut as they immigrated from expanding populations in Massachusetts. To restore the species statewide, a project involving the live trapping of fisher in Vermont and New Hampshire, with subsequent release into suitable habitat in northwestern Connecticut, was begun in 1988. Upon release, the fishers not only remained in their new high-quality habitats, they successfully reproduced and exhibited a high survival rate. As a result of this effort, a viable, self-sustaining population of this native mammal can once again be found statewide.

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What You Can Do

  • Leave a high percentage of mature (14-inch diameter or larger) mast-producing trees such as oak, hickory, beech, and ash.
  • Create small, irregularly-shaped, 1- to 3-acre forest openings isolated from roads and houses for turkeys. The brush in these openings should be cut every 1 to 3 years, preferably in late summer; at this time there is little chance of disturbing a nest.
  • Encourage the growth of grape vines, hawthorn trees, juniper bushes, and winterberry to produce turkey food and cover.
  • It is beneficial to leave a few edge rows of corn (preferably in isolated areas) as a winter turkey food source.
  • Leave clumps of conifers for cover, such as hemlock or white pine. As a general rule, the best turkey habitat consists of 50% to 75% forestland with half of this in mature hardwood and 10% in conifers. An average of 10% to 40% of the land should be in openings, such as old abandoned fields or agricultural areas.
  • Habitat management and good land-use practices will insure that high-quality habitat, and fishers, remain a part of the Connecticut landscape.
  • Become a wildlife observer: the fisher is alert and secretive and can be hard to spot. Learning to find and identify fisher tracks can add interest to a winter hike or cross-country ski trip.

"The establishment and prolific growth of fisher populations statewide marks the successful return of a native species once lost to Connecticut."
Paul Rego, Wildlife Biologist