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Long Island's wild turkeys to be counted by conservation agency

A wild turkey peeks from behind a tree

A wild turkey peeks from behind a tree while roaming yards in Bellport on Nov. 26, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Any Long Islander who frequently sees wild turkeys, once almost extinct but now flourishing in spots, could alert state conservation officers to help them count the flocks to decide whether to allow a full spring hunting season on the Island.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation now allows spring hunting only on two days in Suffolk County — by hunters aged 12 to 15 with the required licenses and permits who are accompanied by adults.

Some Islanders prize wild turkeys, descendants of 75 wild birds reintroduced around three decades ago; others view them as pests. Over-hunting and development had caused the species to vanish from the state in the late 19th century, the DEC said. 

Now, Suffolk has about 6,000 wild turkeys, the DEC said. That is around twice the number in 2009, when the state first allowed the birds to be hunted on the Island. 

"The Long Island turkey population is now prevalent across Suffolk County and extends into pockets of eastern Nassau County," the agency said in a statement.

"Data collected from leg band returns will be used to measure the overall population size of turkeys on Long Island and help biologists evaluate management options," the DEC said.

If they wish to assist the DEC, homeowners can give the agency permission to trap, band and immediately release the birds on their property. Islanders who often see wild turkeys — which tend to have regular routes — also are asked to contact the agency.

The next spring hunt for youths, which is statewide, runs from April 25-26, 2020; there is a limit of one bearded turkey. Though turkeys begin growing beards around 5 or 6 months of age, those bristles do not reach a foot or more until they are about 3 years old, experts said.

North of the Bronx-Westchester county line, a second, much longer hunt, not limited to youths, runs from May 1 to May 31. And hunters can kill two bearded turkeys a day, the DEC says.

The entire state has around 180,000 wild turkeys, down 40% from the previous peak, the agency said. Harsh weather, from rain to heavy snow, and common predators, including raccoons, are to blame, experts said.

“The reintroduction of turkeys to Long Island in the 1990s shows how a locally extirpated animal can be successfully reintroduced to an area with sufficient effort and attention,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “With this success comes the need to ensure the sustainable management of the turkey population today and into the future.”

The multiyear survey, to be conducted on both private and public lands, will begin next year, running from January to March 2020, the DEC said.

For more information, contact the DEC’s regional wildlife office at (631) 444-0310 or by email at wildlife.r1@dec.ny.gov. “Turkey Study” should be listed as the subject line in any emails.

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