Why, yes, Virginia, there are turkeys in the Mojave Desert! And you thought you could only get a holiday turkey from back east. The fact is, wild turkeys are year-long residents in parts of Nevada, including Overton and Mason Valley. Okay, they’re not native residents of the state (like a lot of us). They’ve been introduced from Texas and other states ever since the 1960’s. Turkeys were native throughout America at one time, but by the 1930’s, they were on the brink of extinction. Wildlife management agencies, along with the National Wild Turkey Federation, worked to reintroduce the birds across the country, and met with great success. Wild turkey populations have rebounded, and are strong enough to support limited hunting seasons on them (October in Nevada).
How is reintroduction done? The management technique is called “trap and transplant.” The wild turkeys are trapped in their native range and transplanted into their new territory. There are two subspecies that have been used for introduction into Nevada – the Rio Grande and Merriam’s. Because the birds are not native in the new locale, the populations need to be augmented with occasional reintroductions. But eventually, some populations no longer need to be augmented. In fact, the population in Overton is so well-established, that occasionally they become a nuisance, eating pomegranates and perching on cars. Another population that is doing well is the one at Meadow Valley Wash, between Caliente and Elgin. There was also an introduction into the Spring Mountains in the 1980’s, but that population never got established. Still, you may still hear rumors of a remnant bird gobbling about around Mt. Charleston.
Now here’s some more trivia you didn’t know. Turkey flocks include toms (males), hens, and poults (chicks). Toms are known for their beard, which is a strand of specialized feathers, but a hen can occasionally have a small beard too. Toms can also be distinguished by long spurs on the back of their legs. Tail feathers are iridescent – that’s probably why kids always make their drawings of them with different colors. Turkeys are ground nesters, but spend their nights roosting in trees, safe from predators. They are able runners, achieving speeds up to 25 mph, and can fly reasonably well. Clutches of eggs are produced in spring, and newly hatched poults must be ready to leave the nest within 12 to 24 hours. A turkey’s diet consists of insects, berries, seeds, and even small reptiles. Remember that when you are consuming your holiday fare.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.