Gould Turkeys are Making a Comeback

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

Recent surveys show that Gould's turkeys - which were once eliminated in Arizona - are now making comeback tracks in southern Arizona, according to Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists.

"The results of a recent Gould's turkey survey in the Huachuca Mountains are staggering: 321 Gould's were observed. The highest number of birds observed during past surveys was 90 in 2004," says Game Branch Chief Leonard Ordway.

Gould's turkeys are one of Arizona's two native wild turkey species. They are slightly larger than Merriam's turkeys, which are found throughout much of Arizona's high country. Gould's turkeys were once found throughout southern Arizona. Gould's were an important food source for those who settled and worked in the rugged lands of southern Arizona years ago. Between the Civil War and World War I, miners working in southern Arizona harvested Gould's for many of their meals.

By the time Arizona had legal hunting seasons in 1929, Gould's turkeys had already disappeared from the scene. Gould's now occupy only a few remote mountain ranges in Arizona. However, these birds are making comeback tracks in the Huachucas and other mountain ranges in southern Arizona.

During April of this year, 32 volunteers conducted surveys on 29 standardized routes and observed 105 gobblers and 216 hens. Out of the 105 gobblers, 43 were jakes, which are yearling birds.

"Finding so many young gobblers is great news. That means we are having what we call recruitment: baby birds surviving all the perils of the wilds and entering the population as sub-adults. Those young birds are the future of this struggling species," Ordway says.

The surveys this year also contained a new element: private landowners in the area assisted. "We contacted private landowners who had property where the wild turkeys were known to frequent. These landowners observed 140 turkeys. This is a great model of cooperation, and we can't thank those people enough," says Ordway.

All in all, the survey shows that Gould's turkeys continue to expand their population. "Our goal is to eventually repopulate Gould's in their historic range, especially in the sky islands of southern Arizona," says Brian Wakeling, who has been working on the reintroduction program for more than a decade.

There is more good news: two Gould's gobblers were reported in the Patagonia Mountains.

"Hopefully, some Gould's hens remain in the Patagonia Mountains so these magnificent native birds can be reestablished there as well," Wakeling says.

Gould's have a remarkable comeback story that stretches across the border with Mexico. All the Gould's that have been reintroduced to Arizona have come from the Sierra Madres of Mexico. "Without the cooperation of Mexico and the National Wild Turkey Federation, we wouldn't be standing here beaming about the recent survey results," Wakeling says.

In 2004, Gould's were also reintroduced to the Pinaleno Mountains near Safford. Last year, 28 Gould's were captured and then released into the Pinalenos to bolster the small population there.

"After a couple of decades of hard work, it is gratifying to see such headway being made by the Gould's turkey population thanks to the tenacity and hard work of a lot of people who just refused to give up," Wakeling says.