How did wild turkeys go—then return?
For more than 100 years, wild turkeys disappeared from New England. You can thank James E. Cardoza, a retired wildlife biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, for their return to the state. He led the effort in the 1970s to bring them back.
The last wild turkey in Massachusetts was shot in the winter of 1850 to 1851, he says. By then, much of the state had been cleared, with little large forest to provide the acorns, beech nuts, and chestnuts turkeys need, and people hunted them throughout the year. Turkeys receded from all of the Northeast except in remote parts of Pennsylvania. Then, in the fall of 1972 and spring of 1973, Cardoza caught 37 wild birds in Allegheny State Park in southwestern New York, where they had returned as the forest grew back, and released them in Beartown State Forest in Monterey.
The birds took hold, and the population grew. They faced challenges, though—wild turkeys have to find roosts and food and avoid predators, and a year like this one with a wet spring may leave them cold and hungry. But by 1979, the Berkshire turkeys were doing so well that Cardoza began releasing them across the state, from the Connecticut River to Cape Cod.
Cardoza, who lives in Falmouth, will speak at the Berkshire Natural History Conference on Saturday, October 14, at Berkshire Community College.