There are reportedly over 6,000 wild turkeys on Long Island, mostly in Suffolk County. While wild turkeys are native to Long Island, over-hunting combined with development eradicated them from the area in the late 1800s. In the 1990s, the New York State DEC worked with Suffolk County to reintroduce 75 wild turkeys to the Southaven County Park and Hither Hills State Park areas. Obviously, the program was successful.
One cannot drive down any wooded block on the east end and not see a few turkeys wobbling about. The reported 6,000 number seems small but that’s what various reports say exists. Not sure who or how they count wild turkeys effectively?
Turkeys are now hunted. In 2009, modern turkey hunting on Long Island began with a five-day fall season and a one-bird bag limit. After DEC established this season – and later a two-day, youth-only spring season – area turkey populations continued to increase. Current turkey populations support additional hunting opportunities in the form of a spring season from May 1-31. There is a bag limit of one bearded bird. In fact, the DEC stated, “For most turkey hunters, the new spring 2023 season will be the first spring turkey hunting opportunity on Long Island. Spring turkey hunting on Long Island will begin in May 2023 in Suffolk County, (Wildlife Management Unit 1C.Aug 31, 2022)
Regulations state, “In addition… the DEC is modernizing statewide turkey hunting regulations by changing the minimum shot size from No. 8 to No. 9 for turkey hunting statewide. The change was necessitated by advances in shotshell technology. Previously, shot sizes smaller than No. 8 (larger number indicates smaller size) were prohibited, because they lacked the kinetic energy downrange to humanely harvest a turkey. Modern shotshells use heavier metals such as tungsten alloy, tungsten-iron, or bismuth, maintain enough energy to humanely harvest a turkey, and perform as well or better than many traditional turkey loads. Changes to shot size restrictions apply to both fall and spring seasons and go into effect on Sept. 1, 2022.”
For the folks who love turkeys and would never harm or hunt them, here are some facts. Using various Google searches the results stated that in the wild, mature Long Island male turkeys weigh up to 25 pounds with the average weight being 18-20 pounds. The male turkey averages about 30” long but can be 50 inches long. Large wild male turkeys can reach 30 pounds. Female turkeys are smaller with their average weight around 9-12 pounds. One can identify a female turkey by looking at their heads. They have a rusty-brown body and a blue-gray head. Turkeys amazingly can run up to 25 MPH and fly up to 55MPH. Turkeys have around 5,000 feathers on them to keep them warm in the winter They can survive for two weeks in zero-degree weather and with food, and they usually survive winter.
If you have observed turkeys, you know they make a variety of different noises such as “purrs,” “yelps,” and “kee-kees,” but the famous “gobble” call is only done by males during mating season. As a result, male turkeys are called “gobblers” while females are called “hens.”
Deep snow is the turkey’s worst enemy. It buries them and their food supply. Turkeys can eat almost anything, including insects, worms, snails, seeds, fruit, and nuts. The largest part of their diet is usually nuts, especially acorns, beechnuts, and hickory nuts. In most winters, there are ample supplies of nuts on the forest floor. Luckily on Long Island deep snowfalls are rare and melt quickly.
The differences of eating a wild turkey versus a domestic one? According to Exotic Meats USA, “Wild turkey are smaller and have darker meat, richer, more intense flavor, and firmer texture than a domestic turkey. The breast, being smaller, tends to cook faster than legs or thighs. Wild turkey must not be overcooked because it would become too dry.”
About 88% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving. 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million on Christmas and 19 million turkeys on Easter. In 2021, U.S. consumption of turkey was reportedly 5.1 billion pounds and 15.3 pounds per capita.