TRAVERSE CITY -- Brian Vincent became hooked on turkey hunting 20 years ago, when he first learned the birds’ language of clucks and purrs.
“To call a turkey with your mouth or any other thing and have them respond to it, it’s amazing to have that happen, and if you’re lucky you’ll bring them in to you,” said Vincent, president of the local Boardman River Chapter of the Michigan branch of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Hunters aren’t alone in their fondness for turkeys. Anyone who lives near a wooded area and regularly feeds birds might find themselves on a turkey’s food-prowl path. The big birds’ antics keep many people glued to their windows.
But a harsh winter can be tough on turkeys, especially in Traverse City, which is along the northern edge of turkeys’ comfort zone.
“We, in the Traverse area, are typically north of what would be considered the natural range for wild turkeys,” said Steve Griffith, wildlife habitat biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “That winter food source is the bottleneck for them to maintain a population. With mild winters, they’ve taken advantage of that and pushed north, but a hard winter, a normal winter, would very likely have an effect; we’d lose some birds.”
Wild turkeys have a varied diet; food sources range from bugs and grubs to berries, nuts and seeds. They can struggle to find nuts and seeds in the winter, when they get frozen into the ground or buried by snow, Griffith said.
And deep snow can present an ample challenge.
“When there’s powder greater than 8 inches for a couple of weeks, it can have a detrimental effect on birds because they can’t move around,” said Keith Kintigh, a DNR wildlife supervisor.
Kintigh said it’s too early to tell whether the early, extreme cold will significantly threaten local wildlife. He said a brief period of above-freezing temperatures could substantially help any population.
This year the turkey and deer populations are aided by a moist corn crop that many farmers left standing in their fields.
The turkey population is also a hardy one, Kintigh said.
“We have lost birds in some more severe winters, but populations have rebounded quickly,” Kintigh said.
Efforts to reintroduce the wild turkey to Michigan started mid-20th century, and it’s thanks to human efforts that any turkey can be found north of Bay City, their ancestral northern boundary, said Tony Snyder, the state’s National Wild Turkey Federation chapter president.
Snyder said members of the nonprofit work to provide turkey habitats during the winter.