Ask The Biologist

Turkey Invaders

Turkey Invaders

By Bob Humphrey

Contrary to the myth, deer and turkeys do quite well together.

QUESTION: I live in Maine, and the state started transplanting turkeys into my area about 10 years ago. Now we have lots of turkeys and fewer deer. The turkeys seem to be outcompeting deer for things like acorns and possibly causing more disturbance to them. What do you think? — Kurt W.

ANSWER: This is one of those myths that, like Rasputin, just won’t die. Think of it this way: Set an ice cube out on the kitchen counter, turn on the radio and walk away. When you come back two hours later the ice will be melted. Did the radio cause the ice to melt? No.

The fact of the matter is, deer and turkeys do quite well together. Both eat a wide variety of foods, some of which are the same. The competition might appear more intense with things like acorns because they’re obvious to us. But you must remember that acorns (and other nuts) are more of a luxury than a staple. Deer and turkeys might gain a slight edge in years with bumper crops, but they will still survive quite well in years when there are few or no acorns. If either species has an advantage, it’s deer. They can feed 24/7, while turkeys only feed during daylight hours.

You might consider other causes for a decline of deer in your area, whether real or perceived. I know that Maine’s deer herd has only recently started rebounding from the ill effects of several severe winters, and that coyote predation has been extremely intense for several decades. Add liberal antlerless harvests to that equation and you end up with a minus sum.

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