A resurgent population of wild turkeys are showing up on lawns and in wooded areas across New Jersey looking to eat, not to be eaten.
The state’s wild turkey population has made a remarkable comeback from near-extinction a few decades ago, and wild turkeys can be found in almost every area of the state, say experts.
“I think they’re here to stay – which is a good thing,” said Bob Eriksen, the regional wildlife biologist for the National Wild Turkey Foundation.
By the mid-1800s, the wild turkey population was extinct in New Jersey, due to over hunting and clear-cutting of forests for farms. But 22 birds transplanted to N.J. in 1977 have now grown to a current p..., said the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The population has spread out more evenly over the course of the last decade, said Eriksen, formerly with the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. What was once a bumper crop of turkeys in the northern part of the state has spread gradually out to southern and southwestern parts of the state, Eriksen said.
The turkeys have branched out into suburban areas, partially because old-growth forest is providing less cover than is necessary to breed and raise offspring – and they instead leave to follow waterways to suburbia, where they can find food and have few if any predators, said Eriksen.
And the turkeys seem to be everywhere.
Brian de Castro, of South Orange, was playing baseball in Mackay Park in Englewood on Nov. 16 when a group of six turkeys appeared on a path in front of him. They kept ahead of him, and then flew to a neighboring yard when other people approached.
"They turkeys were just doing their thing," de Castro said. "It was a park - but this was not a place I would expect turkeys."
Nearly every morning, the three female turkeys emerge from the woods behind the Hunterdon HealthCare facility in Clinton. Then they work their way along the building, pecking at the full-length windows, watching the people inside on treadmills, the patients in wheelchairs.
“They’re adorable – they stick together,” said Shelley Farina, the assistant director of the health center. “They go from the gym to the pool, to the front lobby. It’s exciting.”
They can be a nuisance, according to experts. Two years ago, a flock was reported in the Burlington County town of Hainesport – .... They can be hazards for drivers – since even a 20-pound turkey hitting a windshield can cause damage.
Jim Salt, a 72-year-old Avenel man, trekked to the northernmost nook of the state, near the banks of the Delaware River in Montague, with a hunting partner during the week-long firearms season. Together they bagged three birds – including the gobbler that came running to Salt’s turkey call – and which will be on his dinner table on Thursday.
But those aren’t the only turkeys he’s seen in recent months. Even near the Linden refinery where he works, in the heavily-industrial Tremley Point area, there are flocks of wild turkeys.
To see how nature has bounced back is something for which he’s thankful, Salt said.
“I grew up in Clark – we never saw deer or turkeys back then,” said Salt. “Now, they’re everywhere.”