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Wild turkeys make history

By Katie Keen 

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The comeback of the wild turkey is one of the country’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories. While more than 7 million wild turkeys can be found in the United States today, there was a time when the sighting of one of these birds in this country was rare.

Wild turkeys now can be found in parts of every county in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, plus areas of the Upper Peninsula. The expansion of the species in Michigan did not happen overnight, but rather, has unfolded over the last half-century.

Wild turkeys had been common in Michigan prior to the arrival of settlers. In fact, before settlement, it is estimated that more than 94,000 wild turkeys roamed the state. As habitat changed and turkey hunting went unregulated, turkeys disappeared, and conservationists set out to re-establish the species.

Many attempts to release turkeys into the wild were made in various locations.

By 1937, a national coalition of conservationists – virtually all of them hunters, backed by the sporting arms and ammunition industries – persuaded Congress to direct the receipts from an excise tax on those items into a special fund.

The proceeds from this fund would then be distributed to the states for wildlife restoration. Because of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (also known as the Pittman- Robertson Act of 1937), conserving wild turkeys and other wildlife gained nationwide support and habitat management began.

 Since the 1980s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, working with many partners, has completed numerous releases of trapped wild birds and has improved wild turkey habitat.

With the help of these efforts, the wild turkey population has expanded to historic levels, and with that expansion, there are more areas open to spring hunting now than at any time in Michigan history.

Over 4.5 million acres of DNR-managed public land are open to hunting. Millions of additional private-land acres are leased or enrolled in programs to allow hunting by all. Visit michigan.gov/hunting to find out where.

Managing the species

Managing wild turkeys in Michigan involves the complex interactions of turkey populations, their habitat and their relationship to people. Hunting plays an important role in this by regulating turkey numbers.

“The goal of the spring wild turkey hunting season is to maximize hunter opportunity while maintaining a satisfactory hunting experience,” said Al Stewart, DNR upland gamebird specialist.

“Limited to bearded turkeys only, this conservative harvest approach has allowed the continued growth and expansion of the wild turkey population in Michigan.

“Wild turkey hunting in the fall enables the DNR to stabilize or reduce wild turkey numbers in certain areas of the state to meet local goals based on biological, social and economic considerations.”

License quotas are developed for this hunt to take a desired number of turkeys to meet management goals. To help reach these goals, hunters are encouraged to take female turkeys during the fall season.

Mirroring the success measured on a national scale, the return of wild turkeys to Michigan has been aided greatly by deliberate species and habitat management.

The efforts of many have contributed to this achievement, a true recovery story that continues to unfold across the woodlands and open spaces of the Great Lakes State.

Learn more about wild turkeys and turkey hunting at michigan.gov/turkey. ###


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Dust baths


Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The drama outside our window provides unending fascination. Deer blinds are primarily used during hunting season but consider sitting in a blind throughout the year. My friends are more patient when it comes to blind use for observing nature niches.

My friend, Don Wollander, would spend the day in a wildlife blind, with camera focused on a bird nest. He captured outstanding photographs and was rated the number one in world nature competition 13 of 14 years. People find countless ways to enjoy the natural world.

Using our home as a blind, we see things we would miss when walking natural areas. When traveling outdoors, we witness things like a deer chasing a coyote recently described in my column. If you missed it search on line at the Cedar Spring Post (www.cedarspringspost.com) where niche articles are archived. Another time a young fawn saw me standing still and approached, touched my knee with its nose before it thought, “You are not my mama!” and bounded off.

A turkey taking a dust bath. By Charles & Clint (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From our home, we can view our backyard fire pit where we burn brush, roast hotdogs, and make “Some Mores.” Karen woke me to look out the bedroom window where there was a thick gray cloud in the still air over the fire pit. It was hard to see the turkey thrashing in the ash.

A wild turkey was taking a health improving dust bath. Frequently we find hollows in the sand along sanctuary trails where turkeys dry bathe. Dust bath sand is important for wild turkeys and fowl like chickens that are kept by people. The attuned nature observer will witness woodpeckers, robins, and other birds dust bathing. Water bird baths in the yard are good and get used but dry dust baths have special advantages.

Birds lie in bare sand and use wings to stir dry earth on themselves. They work the dirt into feathers. The turkey that discovered our powdered ash hit the jackpot. The fine powder works better than sand for suffocating external parasites likes lice, fleas, bedbugs, mites, ticks, and fly grubs. The dust helps clog spiracles that allow for parasite oxygen exchange. It is not 100 percent effective but neither is slapping mosquitoes for us.

The parasites might move to get away from the dust and the bird will more easily dislodge them from its body. Observe birds actively using their beak and legs to rid the body of parasites. Infested birds scratch and preen frequently. They exhibit broken or missing feathers. Do not confuse molting loss with parasite damage. When molting, they lose the same corresponding feather on both sides. Notice each wing is missing the same opposing feather during molting.

Someone with me tried to help a nestling that had a mosquito on its head. He reached to remove the mosquito. Five young Eastern Phoebes jumped from the nest. We gathered the birds and put them back in the nest. I held my hand over the young until they calmed. Slowly I removed my hand and the birds stayed. My hand was black with lice. Nests are havens for parasites. When birds fledge the nest, they can begin behavior to reduce blood-sucking parasites that cause anemia, weight loss and general ill health. Dust baths are important health aids.

The very fine ash so light it was suspended in air like a cloud was excellent for helping the bird. It penetrated the feathers and coated the skin like an insect repellant. We are not the only ones that use nature to our advantage.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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