When settlers first began moving west, the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) made its home throughout the continent, east of the Rocky Mountains. By the 1830s, however, John James Audubon (1785-1851) noted the beginning of a decline in population, writing that turkeys were “less numerous in every part of the United States, even in those parts where they were abundant thirty years ago.” Over-hunting caused wild turkey prices to rise steeply, which helped launch domestic turkey farms.
By the early 1900s, hunting and habitat loss had eradicated the wild turkey from the northeast. Thanks to reintroduction programs, it has rebounded strongly – so strongly, in fact, that it is actually considered a nuisance animal in some communities. The eastern shore of Staten Island is apparently now overrun with wild turkeys that stop traffic and, according to a recent article in the New York Times, “frighten small children, and snatch cookies out of their hands.”
Fearsome birds, indeed. Manhattan has its own wild turkey, Zelda, who has lived for years now in Battery Park. I hope to see her soon.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.