Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by Simon Yam)

Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by Simon Yam)

The conservation success of an unsung holiday hero

Wild male turkey (Photo by Wayne Dumbleton, CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Wild male turkey (Photo by Wayne Dumbleton, CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Ontario is home to some of Canada’s most interesting species. We have birds with wingspans of more than two metres, butterfly migratory routes that cover more than 4,000 kilometres and rare plants that grow in only the harshest of ecosystems.

One species that you might know that has now become so common that we rarely think of, unless its on our dinner table, is the humble turkey. 

The shining star of Thanksgiving spreads, this native North American gobbler wasn’t always in abundance. In the early 1900s, wild turkeys had all but disappeared from Ontario due to unregulated logging and hunting. 

In March 1984, a turkey restoration project began across Ontario, starting at a site near what is now the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC's) Backus Woods property. The reintroduction involved the release of 27 wild turkeys from the United States.

Originally initiated by Ontario hunters, this program has helped restore wild turkey populations across southern Ontario. The reintroduction program was a partnership between the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The program was a success. Now wild turkeys can be seen (and more commonly heard) throughout the fields and forests of southern Ontario, including on NCC’s MacMillian Nature Reserve

When the late Lyn and Robert MacMillan donated their land to NCC in 2004, it was a farm surrounded by other farms in the sleepy community of Maple. Little did the MacMillans know that in just 13 years their beloved farm would become a natural oasis in a sea of urban development in the rising city of Vaughan. 

The 50-hectare (123-acre) collection of forest, field and stream is a haven for native plants and animals, including wild turkey.

In fact, last spring NCC staff members hiking the area came across a small flock of two to three turkeys, an exciting sight to see in such an urban area.

Today, turkeys continue to be a managed species across Ontario. The story of this iconic Thanksgiving bird is one of partnership, balance and resiliency. 

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