An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of April 17, 2005

issued from California's Sierra Nevada Foothills

WILD TURKEYS IN CALIFORNIA

Several times this week a Wild Turkey has come around my trailer. As with the Mule Deer, the moment I saw her I knew she wasn't like a Mississippi turkey: Even when I walked fairly near, she wouldn't fly away. I'm used to turkeys hiding themselves masterfully and flying away at the merest hint of anything unusual.

When I saw the turkey I recalled a map showing the species' original distribution and I was pretty sure that it had indicated that the bird was essentially an eastern North America species, but introduced in many areas outside its range. After a little Googling I found that the topic of "the Wild Turkey's original distribution" is a hot topic.

If we say that its original distribution is what it was in Columbus's time, then most experts seem to agree that originally Wild Turkeys were not present in California. However, if we go back to the Ice Ages and before, then there's good evidence that California once had them. The turkeys I'm seeing now, however, result from introductions made by the California Department of Fish & Game. There's a fine article on this matter with a distribution map and references to the fossil record at www.montereybay.com/creagrus/turkey-in-CA.html   

The question of whether Wild Turkeys are native or not is important. Wildlife managers use the rule of thumb that the introduction of a non-native species usually is bad because the local ecology didn't evolve to accommodate the species, while the reintroduction of an extirpated species usually is good because it adds diversity and stabilizes the local ecology by "filling in holes" in the local ecosystem's web of life.