The Merriam's Turkey - Midwestern States Wild Turkeys

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The Merriam's Turkey - Midwestern States

The Merriam’s wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is one of four subspecies of wild turkey within the continental United States.  The Merriam’s Turkey currently occupies most of the mid-western states from Canada down to Texas.  Rio Grande turkeys are native to Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.   Both subspecies are found in the State of Colorado.  The Merriam’s turkey is considered to be the “native” species in Colorado and has been kept by people as early as A.D. 500.  The Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) introduced Rio Grande turkeys into the major river systems of the Eastern Plains in the 1930’s. 

A mature Merriam gobbler showing off for his girlfriends.
Photo by: Photo Courtesy of The NWTF
Unregulated hunting, grazing and disease took a heavy toll on wild turkey populations and by the 1930s few turkeys were left in Colorado.  At that time, the Colorado Division of Wildlife began reintroducing Merriam’s turkeys into the state.  A large effort was made to reestablish them on the Uncompahgre Plateau with transplants from game farms in Texas.  Those populations have expanded and currently support a hunting season that lasts from early April to late May.  Turkey hunting is very popular in this area, especially during the spring season.

The Merriam’s wild turkey utilizes forested habitats, primarily lower elevation conifers and Gambel oak brush fields.  In the winter, flocks of turkey utilize pinyon-juniper woodland and ponderosa pine forest with Gambel oak and mixed mountain shrub, where they feed on pine seed, nuts, acorns, berries and grass seed.  In the spring, they move up in elevation, following the retreating snowline.  Breeding and nesting occurs primarily in the ponderosa pine forest type.  Use of unforested areas or pinyon-juniper depends on the proximity to stands of tall roost trees, usually ponderosa pine or cottonwood trees.  They seldom breed in pinyon-juniper unless it adjoins high-altitude ponderosa areas. After hatching, hens and chicks remain in the ponderosa pine and move up through the Gambel oak type into the aspen forest.  At this time, they feed mainly on new plant growth and insects.  At the end of the summer, they tend to move back down in elevation and feed on pine seed, berries, acorns, grass seed and insects.

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