Letters to the editor

December 21, 2008

The remarkable return of Maryland's turkeys

To the editor:

Picture yourself in some isolated, forest swamp or mountain ridge, just before the break of dawn on a still, chilly, April morning. The woodland sounds heard include the call of the whippoorwills, followed by an awakening eastern wood pewee, cardinal or cooing mourning dove and the insistent peck of the pileated woodpecker.

Then there is the challenging gobble of a male wild turkey, a sound not heard a few years ago.

The restoration of the wild turkey, although not the only native wildlife species to make a come back in modern times, is certainly one of the greatest success stories of scientific wildlife management in the state of Maryland.

Turkeys were first seen by the Spanish conquerors soon after 1492, and Europe first learned of this wild bird early in the 16th century when conquistadors brought several back to Spain. By the 1540s, the "turkie-fowle" graced many English tables, including the royal board of Henry VIII.



Apparently this New World bird was confused with the African guinea fowl, which had come to Europe via the Turkish Empire. Both imports were called "turkey."

Thus, a bird so American that Benjamin Franklin wanted it proclaimed our national symbol took the name of a distant land.

Historical records indicate the wild turkey existed in large numbers throughout what is now the contiguous United States, Mexico, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Turkeys were found in an area covering all or parts of 39 states at the time of European settlement.

American Indians not only relied on the wild turkey for food, but also used parts of the turkey for ornamentation, tools, arrowheads and various religious ceremonies. The wild turkey was also the favorite bird of the pioneer hunters, supplying meat for their families.


When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621, they drew on a "great store of wild turkeys." the store was not destined to continue.

Overshooting, clearing of open woodland for settlements and industry, coupled with the loss of a staple food, the result of chestnut blight, drove the Meleagris gallopavo from much of its original northeastern range. As early as 1813, turkeys disappeared from some states and continued to be reduced into the early 1900s.

Habitat destruction alone paved the way for almost complete elimination of the wild turkey on much of its range - the last wild turkey in Connecticut was recorded in 1831, in Massachusetts in 1851.

By 1919, turkeys - even though very abundant during pre-colonial days - were declared by the state game warden to be absent from Maryland, with a few exceptions in the remote western section. In an effort to bring back the wild turkey the hunting season was closed.


Then came a program of importation and the release of pen-raised birds. The trap-and-transplant effort initiated in 1965 has proven most effective.

Today, Maryland has a population estimated to be well over 10,000 birds, with an estimated 2.75 million nationwide. Wild turkeys occur naturally or have been re-established in all of Maryland's 23 counties.

The management of the wild turkey in Maryland has been an overwhelming success. Management, for the most part, has been centered around two activities, stocking of the wild birds and controlled harvesting. With this, several of the state's reservoirs close to populated cities have been successfully stocked with the birds.

The future

What then are the limitations to the future population gains of the wild turkey? Habitat loss is without question the most important factor. Not only is it the most important limiting factor to population gain, but also the factor over which wildlife managers have the least control.

With the continued grant effort of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the willing cooperation of many concerned citizens, the wild turkey will continue to flourish in its comeback. With this combined effort, future generations will be able to enjoy this magnificent native bird.

Paul Inskeep 211-806

Maryland Correctional Training Center


Can we have some numbers, please?

To the editor:

The end of the calendar year is the mid-point in the county's fiscal year. How did Washington County's reserves weather the financial storms in the last half of CY 2008?

What will be the face value of the county's total debt as of Dec. 31 2008, and how does that number compare with the face value of the county's total debt as of June 30, 2008?

Some may even wonder what will be the market value of the county's total debt and what will be the market value of the county's reserves on Dec. 31, 2008.

Others may wonder about property tax collections and possible changes to the property tax rate for FY 2010.

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