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Metroparks Meetup: Talking turkey with Kelly Milewski

No wild turkeys left in Ohio in early 1900s; now 200k across Buckeye State
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 6:27 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Their lifespan is about 3 to 4 years, they’re about 3 to 4 feet tall -- and can feel like they add 3 to 4 inches to your waistline every November. Turkey is a popular topic of conversation this month, and it’s estimated that Americans buy over 45 million Thanksgiving birds each year -- but it wasn’t too long ago that the Buckeye State had none at all.

“Turkey were extirpated from the state in 1904 -- there weren’t any turkeys left here,” explains Kelly Milewski, environmental education specialist for Metroparks Toledo. “Thanks to reintroduction efforts, wild turkeys are now found in all 88 counties of Ohio.”

Today, their numbers top 200,000 --a testament to how effective the state program has been since it started some 70 years ago.

“In the state of Ohio, they started reintroducing turkeys in the 1950s and 1960s,” Milewski recalls. “Here in Lucas County, we actually didn’t get wild turkey reintroduced until the year 2000 -- and we had 25 turkeys reintroduced then.”

Overhunting and loss of habitat were the primary reasons for their disappearance, though they can adapt fairly well. “They like a mixture of farmland and forests,” says Milewski. “This time of year, they eat acorns, seeds, fruit and insects -- and in the springtime, they eat leaves and seeds. They can move around a lot, they’re very transient and can look around for different food.”

Turkeys tend to gather in winter flocks -- and if you’ve got any greenspace near your house, like in the Southwyck neighborhood we visited on this particular day, you may occasionally catch a glimpse. “We’re at Brookwood Metropark today, and we’re right in the middle of a neighborhood with turkeys all over here,” Milewski says. “You really don’t have to do anything as far as habitat goes -- if there’s no turkey in your backyard, there may be in the Metropark closest to you!”

We weren’t lucky enough to see any today, though perhaps a few of these big birds have gotten the memo for the upcoming holiday... after all, fall turkey hunting season is open in Ohio through November 29th.

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