Wild Turkeys On Cape Cod Presentation Recap

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On Monday, January 6, 2014 at 6:30pm, the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) hosted the first of five presentations associated with our 2014 Winter & Spring Lecture Series at the Orleans Yacht Club. Brian Malone, retired Director of the Town of Dennis’s Natural Resource Department entertained over 50 residents and visitors with his interesting and entertaining lecture entitled, “Wild Turkeys on Cape Cod.”

Brian began his presentation by explaining that by any measure, the wild turkey has made a remarkable comeback in Massachusetts. Due to overhunting and habitat loss, the last native turkey in the state was reportedly killed in 1851, on Mount Tom in western MA. For the next 100 years State biologists tried to restore the population by raising the birds domestically, but that didn’t work because the birds lost the instinct to avoid predators. Then in the early 1950’s, wildlife managers discovered the only way to restock turkey populations was to capture wild birds elsewhere and bring them here.

“So how did they capture the birds” Brian asked? A new technique was implemented where they used rocket-netting or cannon-netting to capture the wild birds. With this approach, wild turkeys could be lured to a spot for feeding, and then a net would be “shot” over them. The 40-by-60-foot net would trap the feeding turkeys, enabling the biologists from New York state to capture the birds for release in suitable locations in MA.

Cape Cod was among the last areas in the state where turkeys were reintroduced. The first Cape turkeys were reintroduced in 1989 on Camp Edwards at the Massachusetts Military Reservation and then in the mid-’90s just outside the Cape Cod National Seashore. Brian explained that the federal officials balked at having birds released within the Seashore’s boundaries without extensive study, so State biologist James Cardoza released them on High Toss Road, right on the edge of the Seashore. Brian, who was present for the release, got a good laugh from the audience when he described how some of the birds flew directly into the Seashore after being released.

After this introduction, Brian moved on to explain everything from the turkey’s tail and wing structure, mating rituals, nesting habits, food sources, and much more. He illustrated his presentation with colored photos – but also with turkey “artifacts” – including feathered tail sections, turkey “beards” of various sizes (from older and younger turkeys – toms as well as confused hens), and feet and ankles (included to illustrate the wicked “spurs” of mature toms) – which he passed around for the audience to admire. The highlight of the night though was when Brian began his turkey calls. Using a number of different turkey call devices, including the Box Calls, Push- Pin Calls, Slate Friction Calls, and a Diaphragm Call, Brian was able to masterfully replicate the sounds of both male and female turkeys of all ages. Some of the calls made were yelps, clucks, purrs, putts, cackles, and gobbles. Surprisingly, perhaps due to the inclement weather, the Yacht Club parking lot was not filled with turkeys responding to Brian’s calls! Brian noted that the grandest sound to a turkey hunter’s ears is uttered by the male turkeys to attract hens for breeding and to announce to the world that the big male tom is on watch and ready to defend his territory.

Our “Wild Turkeys on Cape Cod” evening provided a successful start to OCT’s 2014 Winter & Spring Lecture Series. Join us on February 3, 2014 at 6:30pm at the Orleans Yacht Club for the next lecture entitled, “Highlights of a Record Sea Turtle Stranding Season” given by Dennis Murley, Science Coordinator at MA Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.