Bird Watcher's General Store

Turkeys on Cape Cod - 10/05/01


Dear Bird Folks:

Last week I had a flock of 12 wild turkeys feeding in my yard. Most of the birds were small and not very colorful. Could this flock be all female turkeys? What happened to all the males?

-Janet, Truro

Hi Janet,

What happened to all the males? I hear that question a lot from the women in Truro. As for the turkeys, first I need to know if you saw any of these turkeys move. A few weeks ago we had sightings of a plastic turkey and I'd rather not re-live that again if at all possible.

That is so cool that you are getting a flock of turkeys coming to your yard. I have yet to see a wild turkey here on Cape Cod (not counting the plastic one). Every time I go to look for them, the turkeys have "just left." Why won't they wait? Don't they know that I'm a vegetarian? I guess the word hasn't gotten to them yet. The fact that you are seeing turkeys is a wonderful success story. Wild turkeys were extinct in this state for over 140 years. The last Massachusetts turkey was seen on Mt. Tom (how ironic) in 1851. The exact date of disappearance seems to have been a Thursday in late November.

After the Civil War (try to hang on, this could get boring), Massachusetts became more industrialized, causing many small farms to become abandoned. Slowly, much of the forest returned, creating wonderful habitat once again for wild turkeys. The trouble was, all the turkeys were gone, including that Mt. Tom tom. So the state tried to reintroduce turkeys, but the state, being the state, kept using turkeys raised on game farms. They would have been better off using my plastic turkey. The stupid game farm turkeys were clueless about living in the wild and most of them were quickly eaten by predators or hid in homeless shelters. After about 70 years of repeated stupidity, the state brought in "wild" wild turkeys from upstate New York. These truly wild birds flourished here. From 37 birds released in 1973, the state wild turkey population has grown to nearly 20,000 birds.

Cape Cod, considered by many to be a part of Massachusetts, has had a growth of turkeys also, although you couldn't prove it by me. As for your question Janet, what happened to the males? The flock that you had in your yard could have had some males in it. Young toms and adult females look rather similar. As the season goes on, the young toms, called "jakes" (probably named after some country and western singer) will grow much larger than the hens. In late fall the larger jakes will then form their own flock of young hot male turkeys that begin to strut their stuff in preparation for the upcoming breeding season. But the joke is on the jakes, because they are rarely able to successfully compete with the older and thus larger toms for females. So the young jakes end up like most young males, playing video games and hanging out in the mall, waiting for their day to come.

I hope that flock keeps coming to your yard and you are able to watch them grow. As for me, I'll keep looking for my first Cape Cod turkey. In the meanwhile, I'll be content to study that plastic one. It's not very exciting, but it's dependable.

Artwork by Catherine Clark


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