Valley gets 30 new turkeys |

Valley gets 30 new turkeys

Kathy Heicher
Kathy Heicher/Enterprise

EAGLE COUNTY – Considering their size, wild turkeys can fly incredibly fast. They’re also good at hiding. Within seconds of being released this week from cardboard boxes, 31 big birds disappeared into the sagebrush-covered hills north of Eagle. The only signs of a new species in the area were a few turkey feathers dropped by the hastily departing birds.For the third time in four years, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, with the support of the Wild Turkey Federation, is transplanting wild turkeys into the Eagle Valley. The birds were released on Bureau of Land Management property.”Wild turkeys are one of our up-and-coming wildlife species. These birds are very popular for wildlife watching and for consumption,” says Craig Wescoatt, state wildlife manager for the Eagle area. Given the right conditions, including favorable winters, nesting success, and a low mortality rate, the Division of Wildlife hopes to establish a stable flock of wild turkeys in a valley where the birds have never been before, Wescoatt said.

The project has enjoyed some success. Flocks transplanted on Gypsum Creek and Brush Creek have thrived enough a “very limited” turkey hunting season will be allowed south of Interstate 70 this spring.The number of wild turkeys that are now in the valley would be anybody’s guess, although Wescoatt said he has received reports of flocks as large as 87 birds wandering around south of I-70.From DeBeque to EagleSeveral years of research, and some careful coordination of details, were involved in bringing each of the flocks to the valley. This week’s transplant was no exception.The Division of Wildlife and the Wild Turkey Federation study each area where they plan to release birds. Then it’s a matter of waiting for the right time of year, and for turkeys to become available.

The Miriam turkeys that were transplanted this week came from a flock near DeBeque, about 100 miles west of Eagle. Biologists had determined the flock could be thinned.A net was set up, and for several days, corn and oat hay were used to bait the birds. At dawn on Sunday morning, the net was dropped. Thirty-one birds were found underneath: six males and 25 females. Miriam’s turkeys are considered the largest game bird in America. The breed is native to the Western Slope. Adult birds average about 12 pounds.Biologists did some medical tests, gave the birds wing tags and leg bands, and then the unhappy turkeys were packed individually in large cardboard boxes, and trucked to Eagle. The boxes, some moving visibly with the agitated turkeys inside, were lined up. Acting on a verbal signal, the boxes were opened, and the birds were freed. Within seconds, they disappeared.

Vail, Colorado

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