for National Geographic News
The Pilgrims found New England in the 1600s to be well stocked with wild turkeys, which figured into their regular diet, including the original Thanksgiving feast.
But by the 1930s the native birds had been hunted to near extinction in North America, numbering only in the tens of thousands.
Today, thanks to reintroduction efforts, there are about seven million wild turkeys, and they are thriving in an urban America that the early English settlers could not have imagined.
Wild turkeys have been spotted in towns and suburbs across New England—and have even been seen strolling through downtown Manhattan.
The turkeys' ability to take to these urban environments was a surprise to biologists.
"When restoration efforts started across the country, the rule of thumb was that turkeys required about 6,000 acres [2,430 hectares] of contiguous forest habitat," said Michael Gregonis, a wildlife biologist with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
(Related news: "Country Owls Better Suited to the Suburbs?" [October 19, 2007].)
"We found that not to be true at all. Turkeys are pretty adaptable. As long as they have some cover and some trees that they can get up into at night to roost, they can do pretty well."
Who's the Boss?
Humans sharing space with the large, sometimes bold birds have mixed reactions.
"Some people look at them and say, How cool, and take a picture of them," said bird expert Chris Leahy of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
"Other people look at them and say, Whoa, that's a big, scary bird."
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