- The MFFP is creating an additional turkey hunting season as its wild population continues to grow.
- Turkey overpopulation could be a public safety hazard.
The Quebec Ministère des Forêts, Faune et Parcs (MFFP) is expanding turkey hunting season this year in response to a rapidly growing population. "Considering the growing interest of hunters and population growth, the modalities in effect as of the 2020 season will provide more hunting opportunities, will ensure that the management of the species and will promote its optimal management and cohabitation with citizens," reads a ministry document. The new hunting season will last for six days, between October 24 and 30.
Though the ministry has recorded population growth among wild turkeys in the province for 30 years, especially in the regions of Montérégie, Estrie, Outaouais and le Centre-du-Québec, farmers have increasingly reported turkey trouble in the last few years.
The CBC reported in April 2019 that farmers believed the birds were responsible for a significant loss of crops and profits.
Already, their presence has become a nuisance and potential threat to public safety, endangering motorists and airplanes, alike, according to a July 2019 Global News report.
To understand the dangers of turkey overpopulation, Quebec need only look across the border to New England, where, in some areas, turkey sightings are a daily occurrence.
In Boston, the birds have become combative city-dwellers. Emboldened by a new familiarity with humans, turkeys terrorize neighbourhoods, chasing cars, stopping traffic, and even, apparently, organizing attacks on humans.
It's gotten so bad that the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has released a list of "tips for aggressive turkeys," which, terrifyingly, notes that they "may attempt to dominate or attack people that they view as subordinates."
But MFFP biologist Maxime Lavoie assures MTL Blog that Quebec isn't quite at that level yet.
"According to the Massachusetts government, cases of aggressive turkeys come from individuals who have become accustomed to the presence of humans, in part due to the presence of bird feeders, an excellent source of food for turkeys," he says.
"They suggest daily removal of fallen seeds to ensure that turkeys remain wild and do not exhibit aggressive behaviour towards humans."
Though, in Quebec, "a few road accidents involving wild turkeys have been reported to the [Ministry]," the "accidents usually cause minor damage."
"Aggressive behaviour" toward humans is still "rare" and "exceptional" in the province.
In urban areas, "very little damage caused by wild turkeys is reported by citizens."
But despite its characterization as a public menace, Lavoie comes to the turkey's defence.
"Wild turkeys are a fascinating bird to watch and most citizens, including farmers, are happy to see them."
"The presence of wild turkeys on residential land often attracts people's attention because of the size of the bird, but most of the time the turkeys are on the move or feeding."
In fact, says Lavoie, "because turkeys are daytime animals, they are often falsely accused of causing damage by other more nocturnal species such as raccoons and white-tailed deer."
"In addition, its positive impact on crops is often overlooked. A study on the impact of turkeys on blueberry fields in Maine found that the loss of blueberries through direct consumption by turkeys was virtually offset by increased plant productivity as a result of weed and insect consumption by turkeys in the maturing period of the plants."
Whatever residents' feelings toward wild turkeys, the Ministry "recommends that people who see a wild turkey should not attempt to approach it and should give it food."
"People can simply observe the bird from a reasonable distance."
"In case of aggressive wild turkey sightings, citizens can contact the nearest wildlife protection office."
Quebec residents will have to wait to see whether the additional hunting season curbs turkey population growth and prevents a Boston-level scenario.