After many years of trekking through the UW Arboretum, I’ve noticed a fairly recent increase in turkey encounters. Flocks – or rafters – of turkeys can be spotted wandering Longenecker Garden’s curated edges, or ambling across Monroe Street near Spring Trail Pond (a location I grew up calling “the duck pond”). Had I walked these routes 150 years ago, there would have been no turkeys. They were extirpated from Wisconsin for nearly a hundred years starting in the late 1800s. 

Just 29 turkeys were reintroduced to Wisconsin woods in 1976, but the population now has grown to warrant a bi-annual turkey hunt. In our area of south central Wisconsin, known on the Department of Natural Resources map as Zones 1-3, the wild turkey season began September 17th and will continue through January 8th (2022-23). In these three zones, around 50,000 fall harvest authorizations are issued for the fall hunt. Interestingly, the spring turkey hunting season is significantly bigger with over 240,000 permits given out.

While many hunters are in it for the hard-earned meal at the end of the hunt, others seek a trophy. Registering a prize turkey with the National Wild Turkey Federation (more on this organization below), gets you a pin, a certificate, and bragging rights. Turkeys are judged on their weight, the length of their leg spurs, and the length of their beard/s. The numbers are weighted and summed and recored in a national database. In Dane County, the largest bird on record was 28.5 pounds and the longest beard was nearly 12 inches.

Turkeys as Environmental Protectors

Because turkey and other game hunting requires protected habitats, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was established in the 1970s to do just that. They work to conserve and restore turkey habitat and preserve hunting traditions. Because these efforts have overlapping objectives with the US Forest Service, the two entities have recently joined forces. Just last month they singed a landmark 20-year “national master stewardship agreement.”

NWTF leaders sum it up the joint effort this way:

Wild turkeys, as well as other wildlife, rely on healthy habitats and healthy forests for their long-term sustainability. Likewise, hunters rely on the same for a quality and successful hunting experience. Our work focuses on the shared values of water, forests/wildlife habitat, recreation, and resilient communities. This partnership enables us to make greater investments at a greater scale to keep forests healthy, water clean and stop critical habitat loss.

So, here’s to turkeys as environmental protectors! Find out more on the NWTF website, where you can also find and join a local NWTF Chapter.

Turkey for Thanksgiving?

Turkey’s are, of course, a hot topic this time of year as we prepare for Thanksgiving. There’s an ongoing debate, however, on whether turkeys were actually a part of the first Thanksgiving meal. Few artifacts remain that document the famed feast in 1621 in Massachusetts. But, one Pilgrim journal noted that hunters were sent “fowling” in preparation for the three-day celebration. And while turkeys were prevalent in the area (as noted in other journal entries), they are not specifically mentioned as being a part of the feast. Venison was certainly present, and it’s likely eel and corn porridge were served, but no mashed potatoes.

Check out the differing interpretations of the historical record (along with other foods that were absent from the 1600’s kitchen) from Food52 and

A few thoughts for Thanksgiving 2022:

  • Some say the best – quickest, most evenly cooked, and moistest – way to prepare a turkey is by spatchcocking it. That is, removing the backbone and flattening (or butterflying) the bird for roasting. Our family is trying this technique this year with tips from Max the Meat Guy.
  • Speaking of Thanksgiving preparations, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Wisconsin-famous cranberry. The majority of cranberries are consumed in November. And Wisconsin is not only a power player in cranberry production, but the UW Agriculture program posts “Cranberry News & Resources” on a regular basis.

Learn More

  • Turkeys can become aggressive during their mating season in spring. Find out what to do if you encounter an aggressive tom turkey.
  • Do you know what a turkey snood is? We didn’t either – until our friends at EEK! (Environmental Education for Kids) set us straight. A snood is the fleshy protuberance that hangs from the top of the beak. Find out more, including other turkey terms like jake, caruncle, and wattle here.
  • It’s also deer hunting season (November 19-27, 2022 for gun hunting). I wrote about the deer season – and women hunters in particular – in the November 2019 Nature Net News post. Check it out here.
  • Learn 5 turkey facts from Canada in the Rough:


In Case You Missed It…

News from Nature Net Members​​

The first Great Midwest Crane Fest, a joint project of the International Crane Foundation and the Aldo Leopold Foundation, was a great success! “Craniacs” attended workshops and lectures, and watched hundreds of cranes siege on the Wisconsin River as they prepared for their migration south. The new and improved Wonderground has reopened at the Madison Children’s Museum! The outdoor playground now features additional structures and elements including a double-decker treehouse, 12 foot slide, expanded climbing structure, and more connecting bridges and paths. The Wonderground is made entirely of local and upcycled materials. The Aldo Leopold Nature Center is partnering with Nuestro Mundo and Henderson Elementary Schools to pilot a new after school program this fall. This partnership seeks to make nature programming more accessible for low income students who experience transportation and other barriers to outdoor activities and environmental education.

More from Nature Net…

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