Do we have too many turkeys?

Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife doesn’t know how many wild turkeys we have, but they are pretty sure we need more turkeys in some parts of the state. I know a lot of people who think we have far too many turkeys, and the legislature this session will consider a lot of bills seeking to increase the turkey harvest.

DIFW Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist Allen Starr wrote an interesting column about DIFW’s initiative to improve their methods of counting and managing turkeys. Today I am going to share Allen’s column with you. Here it is.  

Efforts to Determine Maine’s Wild Turkey Population

By Allen Starr, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Establishing a wild turkey population in Maine has been a biological success story. A few captures and relocations from other states followed-up by in state captures and relocations has resulted in a thriving turkey population in many parts of Maine, but, depending on whom you’re talking to, Maine has either too many turkeys, too few turkeys or about the right amount.  To properly manage turkeys in Maine requires solid information on numbers of birds in various parts of the state. Turkey populations in southern and central Maine are doing very well, while populations in northern and eastern Maine may still have room to grow.  This year, MDIFW is beginning an effort to get a better idea of turkey populations throughout the state, which will help the department make better management decisions about the turkey population.

Getting estimates of wildlife populations can be challenging.  There are various census techniques which attempt to count portions of a population and then apply the information to determine the size of the entire population. Another method that is commonly used in wildlife population estimates is the “mark – recapture” method, which is the technique MDIFW will be using in this effort to estimate the turkey population. This is accomplished by capturing individuals and marking them in some fashion. Our plan is to capture turkeys, mark them with bands, and then record them when they show up in the harvest.  For this to work, it is very important that successful hunters report any banded birds taken during hunting seasons to MDIFW.  From the information reported and collected, we can estimate population size by how often marked birds are collected during the hunting season.  The challenging part of this method for department staff is getting enough birds banded to make the population estimate statistically valid.

Wildlife Resource Assessment biologists (WRAS) in Bangor and Regional Wildlife biologists working across most of the state will attempt to capture and band wild turkeys using various netting techniques. Drop netting (nets suspended over bait) is one method, but the most common method of catching large groups of birds is by rocket netting.  With this technique, turkeys are baited to an area, and once they become comfortable and feeding regularly, a net that is propelled by rockets is detonated over them. Biologists then must quickly secure the net to prevent birds from escaping, turkeys are then placed in holding boxes until information is collected and they are banded. The birds are then released at the capture site.

Wild turkeys in Maine are unappreciated by some and highly valued by others. Getting solid population information is essential for making sound wildlife management decisions for a species. Accurate population data by Wildlife Management District (WMD) coupled with publicly derived goals from the recent Big Game Species Planning effort will help the department make comprehensive management decisions about appropriate wild turkey population levels throughout the state.


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.