Article Written by Tadeusz B. Splawinski, Ph.D.

At the beginning of the 20th century, widespread unregulated hunting and habitat loss led to a steep decline in wild turkey populations, reaching critical lows across much of North America (McRoberts et al. 2014; MFFP 2016a) including its extirpation in southern Québec and Ontario (Government of Canada 2014). Due to improved wildlife management and restoration activities such as stocking and relocation programs, populations have significantly increased across its historical range (Government of Canada 2014; MFFP 2016a). As of 2012, the status of the species was listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and as “Secure” by Wildspecies 2010 (Canada) (Government of Canada 2014).

In the province of Québec, ornithologists first reported the presence of Eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) in 1976, one of the five sub-species found in North America (Robert et Bannon 1995; MFFP 2016a). These observations coincide with its northward expansion from Ontario, New York, and Vermont, driven in part due to milder winters and an increase in suitable habitat (Blanchette et Landry 2015; MFFP 2016a). Over the last several decades, populations have steadily increased in the province. 40 strategic relocation programs carried out between 2003 and 2013 involving more than 600 captured wild turkeys helped boost numbers and expand their range even further (MFFP 2016a).

Regulated Hunting

Between 2005 and 2007, an experimental and highly restricted spring wild turkey hunt was initiated by the MFFP (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs) in the Montreal region (zone 8 south). Its goal was to help assess the population of wild turkeys and to determine the potential impact of hunting on bird numbers (MFFP 2016a). The insight gained from this trial program led to the establishment of a regular hunting season in the spring of 2008 (Blanchette et Landry 2015; MFFP 2016a). Since then the popularity of this activity has increased dramatically, with a record 14,266 permits purchased and 5,884 birds harvested in 2016. The success rate (at least one bird harvested per hunter) was recorded at 31%, one of the highest observed rates in the northeast. Additionally, 10.2% of hunters were able to harvest a second bird, a record high since the introduction of this regulation in specific hunting zones in 2014. Currently, the annual economic contribution of this activity is estimated at over $ 5 million (MFFP 2016b).

Government Management Initiatives

The MFFP has launched a wild turkey management plan for 2016-2023 in order to ensure a viable future population and continued natural expansion of the species. The plan is comprised of four broad objectives: species management, species sustainability, increased hunting popularity, and coexistence with wildlife (MFFP 2016a). Additionally, the provincial government has spearheaded the development of spatial statistical models aimed at predicting the probability of presence of wild turkeys in southern Québec. When implemented, such an approach would allow biologists and wildlife managers to anticipate territory use by wild turkeys in zones where they are already present, and in zones not yet occupied (Blanchette et Landry 2015).

Conclusion

The future appears very bright for wild turkeys in Québec. The continued implementation and improvement of sustainable wildlife management practices by the MFFP will help ensure a healthy population, which in turn will enhance the provinces rich natural history and contribute to the economic prosperity of many local communities. It will also secure the ongoing pursuit of this prized game bird by passionate hunters, thus preserving a time-honored Canadian tradition.

References:

Blanchette, P., et Landry, F. 2015. Modèle de répartition spatiale du dindon sauvage au Québec: présentation d’une méthode et de son application, Direction de la faune terrestre et de l’avifaune, Direction générale de l’expertise sur la faune et ses habitats, Secteur de la faune et des Parcs, ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, 58 p.

Government of Canada. 2014. Status of birds in Canada – wild turkey. Accessed January 3, 2017, from:
http://www.ec.gc.ca/soc-sbc/oiseau-bird-eng.aspx?sY=2014&sL=e&sM=p1&sB=WITU

McRoberts, J.T., Wallace, M.C., and Eaton, S.W. 2014. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.

Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP). 2016a. Plan de gestion du dindon sauvage au Québec 2016-2023. Gouvernement du Québec, 16 p.

Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP). 2016b. Bilan de la chasse au dindon sauvage 2016. Gouvernement du Québec, 4 p.

Robert, M., et Bannon, P. 1995. Dindon sauvage. Page 1295 dans J. Gauthier et Y. Aubry, éditeurs. Les oiseaux nicheurs du Québec : Atlas des oiseaux nicheurs du Québec méridional. Association québécoise des groupes d’ornithologues, Société québécoise de protection des oiseaux, Service canadien de la faune, Environnement Canada, région du Québec, Montréal.