New Brunswick

Wild turkeys added to New Brunswick's official bird list

New Brunswick has established a population of wild turkeys, a committee of birders has decided.

'It's the first time we really had to contemplate a species that has sort of gradually arrived'

Wild turkeys have been added to the official bird list in New Brunswick. (Joe MacDonald/CBC)

New Brunswick has established a population of wild turkeys, a committee of birders has decided.

After a two-year study, the New Brunswick Bird Records Committee voted Sunday to add the species to the official bird list for the province, naturalist Jim Wilson said.

"It's the first time we really had to contemplate a species that has sort of gradually arrived," Wilson said. 

Wilson estimated there are hundreds if not thousands of wild turkeys living along the Maine border from Charlotte to Madawaska counties — particularly in areas near the Maine border.

New Brunswick has established a population of wild turkeys, and they’re here to stay. 0:39

The birds can be found in areas where it's easiest for them to find seeds, hazelnuts, oak nuts, apples and other food all year long. 

"They will seek out places where they can get enough food and be able to nest and reproduce successfully," he said. "That is, in agricultural areas or areas of human habitation."

Wilson said wild turkeys are adaptable birds, but not all the turkeys in the New Brunswick wild have the same survival skills.

Away from the border, some birds have come from the wild population in Maine, but many appear to have been deliberately released into the wild, he said.  

The prospects for those turkeys aren't good, but it's still difficult to tell which birds are "truly with wild smarts" and which birds have been introduced. 

For months, Wilson has been researching wild turkey populations in Maine, where there is an annual hunt.

Natural Jim Wilson said many wild turkeys can be found near the border with Maine. (Submitted by Jim Wilson)

He said similar tactics were used when trying to increase the turkey population there. People tried to release captive birds in northern parts of the state to increase their numbers and expand their territory.

But those birds would die off from harsh weather, lack of food, and predation from coyotes and bobcats.

Wild turkeys captured in the southern part of the state, then released a few hundred kilometres north, did survive and reproduce. That eventually led to the statewide population that exists today.

"They're very resilient and adaptable and capable of taking a lot of hardship and still making it through the winter." 

The idea of hunting turkeys in New Brunswick has been around for almost as long as the birds have.

A hunt as part of a species management plan is something the Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland is still advocating.

Minister wants management plan

"I said this 10 years ago. If we don't do something to manage them they're going to continue coming, en masse, and as a result we won't have data, we won't have the means with which to manage them when the time comes."

Holland has said the wheels were already in motion to develop a wild turkey wildlife management program.

"Now we're realizing, with studies and whatnot, the population of those birds is fairly significant, quite significant compared to where it was a decade ago," he said. "So that warrants management."

Holland said he recognizes the difference in the populations between the wild animals moving in from across the border and those that appear to have been released across the province.

"That is something that we do not, as the department or myself, advocate in any way shape or form," Holland said of the turkeys released in the wild.


With files from Information Morning Fredericton


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