Drive carefully, always have a shovel
Now that it seems spring may have finally arrived, people’s thoughts turn to outdoor pursuits, when there isn’t a hockey game on TV, or it isn’t snowing. The landscape is coming alive as flora and fauna emerge from winter slumber.
As rural residents can attest, one form of life that has become ubiquitous is the wild turkey, a species that has been called, among other things, “grouse on steroids.” Unlike the Canada goose, which is a seasonal visitor, wild turkeys have taken up permanent residence in these parts.
It is hard to believe that the birds were once as rare as hen’s teeth in Ontario. In fact, in the early 1900s, there were no wild turkeys in the entire province.
But in the 1980s and 1990s, the provincial government, spurred by the desire to give hunters more game to harvest, imported turkeys from the United States and released them in the countryside.
Conservationists and wildlife experts work with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Ontario Federation of Hunters and Anglers and the National Wild Turkey Federation to help the birds thrive.
It is estimated that there are about 70,000 wild turkeys in Ontario now.
They are hardy, plentiful and bold. Although we are just now thawing from one of the more harshest winters in recent memory, if flock size is a true indicator, turkeys seem to be have wintered well.
While they can be seen noshing in fields, the big birds are not shy and regularly sample feeding opportunities in feeders, on lawns, yards and piles of wood.
Motorists are also very much aware that the birds love to lallygag alongside roads. They are unpredictable and sturdy. Any driver who has had the misfortune of having a close encounter with a winged creature knows that big birds can damage vehicles.
The turkey population is being trimmed these days as hunting season has begun.
Expect to see some thrilled hunters over the next few weeks, if the promotional material is to believed.
“Hunting this species can be the most exciting and challenging fowl hunting available,” according to Ontario Travel. “Beginning in the spring, when male birds attempt to attract their mates with proud displays of strutting and calling, the challenge is the greatest. As a result, calling has become the preferred method for luring these birds, notorious for their awareness.”
But like all good things in life, there are limits.
Conservation is still all-important with the wild turkey. Regulations have been put into place to ensure that their populations are respected; during the spring hunting season a twobird limit applies. Separate turkey tags must be purchased for each, and each bird must be harvested on separate days. To hunt wild turkey in Ontario, you require both a small game licence and a special wild turkey licence.
With the large numbers of slow-moving birds hanging around, and forest habitat gradually shrinking, it would seem relatively simple and easy to bring down a turkey. However, while many are called, few are bagged. That is why skill, stealth and patience are required to kill the surprisingly elusive and deceptively savvy gobblers.
As one can imagine, call-shy quarry can vex even the most seasoned and most accomplished hunter.
Turkeys are known for their brilliant plumage, cocky demeanour and mean sense of humour. These birds love to tease humans.
Inevitably, a hunter will come across smug show-offs that ignore every effort to lure them within gun or bow range. They cavort in the open, strutting their stuff while camouflaged humans slowly fume.
Naturally, there has always been much discussion about why a tom will not respond to a fake call of the wild.
The bird may simply be wary of a confrontation, it could be tired after an active breeding season and just wants to be alone.
The prime reason overtures are rejected is that the birds want to survive. As the hunting season progresses, the survivors tend to get extra cautious. Any species, regardless of how much it loves the occasional adrenaline rush, will get nervous if it gets shot at. Regardless of the season, we should always be aware of others. That is why we are reminded to be on the look-out for turtles that are trying to cross the road.
Each year, from late May to early July, female turtles leave creeks, rivers and marshes to lay their eggs on land. However, many of these lumbering creatures never arrive at their destination.
Road mortality is one of the biggest threats facing freshwater turtles as many die each spring when they are hit by cars.
That is one reason all eight of Ontario's native turtle species are “at risk.”
That is why we should be prepared to slow down and help a creature in need. Remember to keep a shovel in the car, if you need to rescue a turtle, or dig yourself out of a snow bank.