Metroland News Service Wild turkeys graze from lawn to lawn on Arlington Boulevard in Kitchener last month. Turkeys have become a common sight in the region's urban areas.

As the wild turkey hunting season opens, a conservation group says efforts to preserve habitat for the gobbling bird in Windsor-Essex are paying off.

Nearly extinct in the region by the early millenium, the population has rebounded to between 1,500 and 2,000 birds, said Dale Scott, regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation.

“I was hunting this morning and saw about 18 birds,” he said. “But just because they’re there now doesn’t mean they’ll be there next year or the year after.”

The local branch of Scott’s group has done a lot to increase habitat for the turkey in Windsor-Essex, including planting some 29,000 trees, but he says more needs to be done to manage the resource.

In North America, Scott says 6,000 acres of animal habitat are lost every day. Although his organization focuses exclusively on wild turkey, he says the birds share habitat requirements with a plethora of other species.

“We’ve done more by accident than most organizations do on purpose,” he said. “We were so focused on the turkey, but all that work translated over to pheasant, partridge, quail and all those upland game birds, as well as skunks, raccoons and other animals that need that kind of habitat.”

As both an avid hunter and conservationist, Scott says the former is an important component of the latter.

“Some people truly believe you shouldn’t hunt, but if you’re realistic, you realize that if a population gets too large and gets to that breaking point, you’re not really managing that resource, you’re hurting it,” he said.

Currently, hunters are allowed to kill two bearded wild turkeys during open season. There are fall turkey seasons in some regions, and the limits are determined by the health of the population.

As the population of wild turkeys in Windsor-Essex grows, so too does the chance they’ll enter urban areas and interact with people. Last June, a wild turkey broke through the window of a LaSalle residence and was found sitting on a couch.

For those concerned about the birds, Scott has some advice.

“Don’t interact with them, and definitely don’t feed them,” he said. “The birds will usually move along on their own if they’re not being fed.”

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