Wild turkeys return to Vermont

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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter reports that wild turkeys have made quite a comeback in her neighborhood – as they have all over Vermont.

(Hunter) “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character. …. The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” So wrote Benjamin Franklin.

As I drove away from Willis Wood’s on the Center Road, I noticed the flock of wild turkeys in the field across the way. There were perhaps twenty – mothers with their adolescent children – gobbling their way through the grass toward the Center Meeting House.

Today wild turkeys are flourishing in Weathersfield, and in Vermont generally. This has not always been the case. In the mid-19th century when the sheep industry peaked, the Vermont countryside became deforested. The wild turkeys disappeared along with their habitat.

But in the twentieth century the forests have returned to Vermont, and we have gone from 25% forestland to almost 80%. In 1969 and 1970 the state began to reintroduce wild turkeys, first 17 in Pawlet, and then 14 more in Hubbarton. By 1976 the 31 turkeys had multiplied to 4000. Since then the flock has grown to about 40,000 turkeys, statewide.

In Weathersfield, they have a perfect habitat, especially on the three-mile stretch between our house and Willis Wood’s. And it is in large part thanks to Willis that this habitat is being preserved. In the late 1980s, Willis began working with five landowners in the Center as well as the First Congregational Church and the Historical Society, on the “Weathersfield Center Land Conservation Project.” Owners donated conservation easements to the Upper Valley Land Trust, insuring that much of the historic Center will always remain open, not only for people to enjoy, but for turkeys as well.

It is a mixed habitat, deep woods with beechnuts, acorns, hop hornbeam nuts, and “bead” or sensitive fern; small ponds, brooks, and open fields alive with insects, the almost exclusive food of the poults. Keeping the land undeveloped also provides habitat for the turkeys’ natural predators- horned and barred owls who attack the adults; coyotes and foxes who go after the young; raccoons, skunks and now possums who eat the eggs, thus maintaining the balance of nature. Much of the land is open to human hunters, in season, as well.

It seems entirely appropriate that these “true, original natives of America” are so at home in the historic center of Weathersfield.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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