Skip to main content

Canada Once driven near extinction, wild turkeys making themselves at home in southern Quebec

They arrived a few years ago – three-foot-tall, bare-headed visitors that would occasionally stare intently at residents from their balconies and yards.

The wild turkeys frankly unnerved some citizens of Saint-Sauveur, a picturesque town in the Laurentians region north of Montreal, says Jean Beaulieu, the town’s general manager.

“They were in people’s yards on their cars, and there were people who were scared to leave their homes because they can be aggressive, especially when they have their young,” Mr. Beaulieu said in a phone interview.

Story continues below advertisement

The Camping Horizon campground in St-Roch-de-l'Achigan, Que. sustained considerable damage after what Environment Canada says was possibly a weak tornado that hit the area Thursday night. One person was injured after strong winds caused the trailer he was in to roll over. The Canadian Press

Once hunted near extinction, wild turkeys are an increasingly common sight in southern Quebec, thanks to warmer winters and a successful conservation and relocation program that has brought their numbers back from the brink.

Residents report seeing the large, dark-coloured, omnivorous birds perching on balconies, wandering through front lawns and digging for seeds or insects on golf courses.

But Mr. Beaulieu says despite the initial shock, few people in the town seem bothered any more.

“The first time you see them you’re surprised, because it’s pretty spectacular, the colour, the size, it’s a pretty big animal. But you get used to seeing them,” he said, adding that the birds appear to have become more shy in the years since they were reintroduced.

Like any other neighbours, they’ve learned to co-habit.

André Dumont, a biologist with Quebec’s wildlife department, says it’s difficult to know how many turkeys there are, because their population can fluctuate drastically.

A harsh, snowy winter can reduce their numbers by as much as half, while a hot, dry summer creates ideal breeding conditions. Therefore, he says the department relies on an annual survey of hunters to gain an impression of how the population is doing.

Story continues below advertisement

What is clear, he says, is that their population has been gradually increasing over the years in southern Quebec and Ontario, thanks in part to milder winters, long growing seasons and a conservation program started in the United States a few decades ago. Hunting was restricted, habitats were preserved and trapped birds were reintroduced to areas where they’d once disappeared.

“It’s a nice story of re-establishing a species,” he said.

The turkeys’ return is pleasing to hunters, who pour about $5-million a year into the province’s economy during the annual hunt.

Steve Tardif, the president of hunters’ group Club Dindon Sauvage Montréal, says he believes the population has stabilized rather than increased in recent years, and that new sightings can be attributed to migration rather than expansion.

“We see areas where we never saw turkeys and now we see them, whereas other areas that had a large population don’t,” he said.

While hunters may be happy to see the turkeys, not everyone feels that way.

Story continues below advertisement

Their large size and presence near roadways can be a potential hazard for drivers, and Mr. Dumont said the Gatineau airport has had to deal with turkeys on its runways.

A spokesman for Transport Canada says turkeys, like any large birds, can threaten aircrafts.

“Airports take a number of steps to reduce the threat of bird strikes, including grass cutting, visual and auditory repellents, and population control,” Alexandre Desjardins said in an e-mail.

Farmers, too, have complained about them destroying fields, although Mr. Dumont says they’re often being unfairly blamed for damage caused by other, more discreet animals such as deer or raccoons.

“It’s a big bird that we see from far, that is awake when we are,” he said by way of explanation. “The studies have shown that a lot of damage to the harvest that is attributed to birds, is done falsely.”

Both Mr. Dumont and Mr. Tardif see the turkey’s return as a positive, chalking it up to win for biodiversity and conservation. Both say Canada’s tough winters make it unlikely the population will ever increase to an entirely problematic level.

Story continues below advertisement

And Mr. Tardif points out, they’re also delicious.

He recommends they be served either smoked, marinated and barbecued, or as a traditional holiday meal.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter