Wild turkeys expand Colorado habitat

Careful management leads to success story

State wildlife officers, outdoors enthusiasts and conservation groups began reintroducing wild turkeys in Colorado in the early 1980s, and La Plata County and Southwest Colorado now have thriving populations. Enlargephoto

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo

State wildlife officers, outdoors enthusiasts and conservation groups began reintroducing wild turkeys in Colorado in the early 1980s, and La Plata County and Southwest Colorado now have thriving populations.

The wild turkey, once small in number in Colorado has made a comeback.

“There are more wild turkeys in the state now than ever before,” said Michael Seraphin with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Colorado Springs.

“The increase is due to their adaptability, high reproductive capability and the careful management of hunting (by the state),” Seraphin said.

Patt Dorsey, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager in Durango, said: “We may have the best turkey hunting in the state. The mix of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak is the habitat turkeys like.

“I think this is a pretty good year for turkeys. “If the late spring is cold and wet a lot of turkey chicks can die, but this year it was dry.”

State wildlife officers and sportsman or conservation groups began reintroducing wild turkeys in Colorado in the early 1980s to strengthen dwindling populations.

Martin “Turkey” Burget, with the then Colorado Game & Fish Department, in Southwest Colorado was instrumental in the effort, Dorsey said.

“Burget distributed wild turkeys from the Devil Creek State Wildlife Area around Colorado,” Dorsey said.

The wild turkey is among the animals that find winter refuge in the Perins Peak Wildlife Area west of Durango, Dorsey said. Other animals that find shelter there are bears, deer and elk. The area is closed to the public beginning Nov. 15.

Wild toms and hens mate in early spring in areas where they’ve spent the winter, Dorsey said. The hen then builds a nest hollowed out in the ground, often a secluded site in a stream corridor where there will be plenty of bugs for the newborn chicks.

The young are called poults, Dorsey said. One-year-old males are jakes. Adult toms weigh 11 to 24 pounds and the hen, 6 to 12 pounds. They look huge, but both are sleeker versions of their domestic Bronze counterparts, she said.

“They’re hardy birds,” Dorsey said. “They can go a long time without eating.”

The wild turkey has predators, Dorsey said. Skunks and raccoons eat their eggs, and fox, coyotes, bobcats, eagles and even bear will snatch a young turkey under the right conditions, she said.

Michael Seraphin with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Colorado Springs said the settling of Colorado created a habitat for wild turkeys.

“There weren’t lot of wild turkeys in Colorado,” Seraphin said. “But the waste grain that settlers on the eastern plains left attracted turkeys because it was good forage.”

Turkeys were abundant when the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth Colony in 1620. But development that destroyed their habitat and rampant hunting reduced their number to an estimated 30,000 by 1900, Seraphin said.

daler@durangoherald.com