A year ago I reported several sightings of wild turkeys in various areas around the Annapolis Valley. As I mentioned in that report, people have been seeing turkeys in the wilds around here for a decade or more. Turkey sightings are almost commonplace, in fact; and the farther west you travel in the Valley the more sightings there are.
Since there have been no releases by the Department of Natural Resources, the birds established in various Valley coverts obviously come from private stocking. While this is illegal and contrary to the Wildlife Act – a clause in the Act specifically forbids turkey introductions – this hasn’t stopped individuals from releasing birds.
There’s nothing new in this. The truth is that people have been attempting private introductions of turkeys and other game birds for over half a century, and perhaps even longer. There was at least one “official attempt” by the Department of Natural Resources to introduce turkeys. In 1957 the Department released several pairs of wild turkey and chukar partridge. Monitored closely, these introductions were deemed to be failures. The turkeys and chukar apparently found the Nova Scotia winters too severe.
In 1993 I discussed game bird introductions with the then provincial wildlife director, Merrill Prime. In an overview of stocking attempts, Mr. Prime said that since 1929 there have been at least eight publicized attempts by wildlife groups to introduce a variety of game birds to the province. How many game bird introductions were quietly made in that period isn’t known, but Mr. Prime said they probably numbered in the dozens.
Among the birds that were unsuccessfully stocked were capercaillie, a large European grouse reaching 12 pounds, quail, black grouse, chukar, willow ptarmigan and turkeys. Mr. Prime included turkeys in the failed introductions, ignoring the fact that some of the private stockings have been successful. These are the birds that are being sighted nowadays, along the southern slopes and the North Mountain area of Kings County, for example. Several sightings were reported to me recently, in fact, providing the onus for this column.
Readers may also be aware that several large turkey flocks have been established in Annapolis County. These flocks came from pen-reared birds of wild stock – the type biologists say won’t survive in the wilds – and they appear to be doing nicely.
In the interview with Merrill Prime I was told that we seem to have the type of environment in which turkeys could survive. Nowadays, however, game bird introductions are complicated by several factors. Mr. Prime referred to the “social and ecological issues that must be addressed first” before the province could get down to looking seriously at introducing turkeys.
Hunters would welcome the introduction, of course. In other parts of North America, turkey hunting is a big-time sport that has thousands and thousands of adherents. While it’s remote, the possibility that we could have turkey hunting here one day has many hunters excited.
In the meanwhile, some people have tired of waiting for government action on turkey stocking. Which explains the private stockings. Which also explains why several times a year I get telephone calls from people who exclaim excitedly, “I just saw a flock of wild turkeys.”