The Explosion of the SouthCoast Wild Turkey Population
Until I was 20-something years old, I swear the only turkeys I ever saw were on my mother's Thanksgiving table. Now, it's not unusual to see a turkey waddling through a store parking lot or a half dozen or so walking down the breakdown lane on Route 140 – and some of those little boogers can be aggressive.
Where have all of the wild turkeys come from?
According to Mass.Gov, the turkey population, which was plentiful in colonial Massachusetts, was extirpated by 1851. In other words, there just weren't anymore. Hungry colonists and an invasion of the birds' habitat reduced the population of wild turkeys to near zilch.
The wild turkey is the official game bird of Massachusetts. There is a widely circulated myth that Benjamin Franklin advocated having the turkey declared the national symbol instead of the eagle. Fake news!
So if the Pilgrims drove the wild turkey out of Massachusetts, why are there so many birds around today? Mass.Gov says MassWildlife reintroduced turkeys to the Commonwealth in the 1970s. In the 1990s, the state transferred the birds to locations around the state, including here on the SouthCoast.
Today there are an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 wild turkeys in Massachusetts. To put that into perspective, according to 2018 U.S. Bureau figures, there are 10,580 people in Acushnet, 34,307 in Dartmouth, 16,094 in Fairhaven, and 15,988 in Westport. There are more turkeys in Massachusetts than the human populations for Fairhaven and Acushnet combined.
By the way, the spring wild turkey hunting season opens this week, but don't think you can just pick up a gun and bag a bird because there are rules.