Hearing the call of wild turkeys in Acadia National Park

For visitors to Acadia National Park who’ve experienced the wonder of seeing wild turkeys along the Park Loop Road, carriage roads or hiking trails, the bird is more than what’s for Thanksgiving dinner.

In fact, some people are so thrilled to see turkeys in and around Acadia that they post photos, videos and statistics on the Internet, whether the birds are spotted after a hike, during an RV vacation, on a nature tour or by the side of the road.

tom turkey struts like peacock

Male wild turkey struts like a peacock and wiggles the wattle under its beak to attract hens (Photo courtesy Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife)

Even Michael J. Good, a Registered Maine Guide in Bar Harbor who takes people on birding adventures through his company Down East Nature Tours, gets excited by turkey sightings.

“If I see wild turkey I always STOP and let my clients experience the birds,” Good says in an e-mail, in response to an interview request. “If males are gobbling, I always answer back so we can hear their fascinating call. I always count them when I see them.”

During the first 9 months of this year, 60 wild turkeys were counted by Down East Nature Tours, according to the company’s Facebook page. Scores of other turkeys were counted on Mount Desert Island over the same time period, bringing the 2014 total through September to more than 110 as entered into the eBird database, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

There’s something about turkeys that makes people go wild for them in and around Acadia.

Wild about turkeys in Acadia National Park

We’ve seen wild turkeys at the end of an Easter Sunday hike on the Orange & Black Path, along the Park Loop Road and near the Sieur de Monts and Cadillac Mountain park entrances, and almost always stop to take a video, a photo or just to observe their behavior.

“They are one of the largest megafauna we have on MDI and they elicit excitement in almost everyone that sees them,” says Good, who was named Best Birdwatching Guide by Yankee Magazine in 2009. “I personally love them because they have made a huge comeback after being wiped out by overhunting and pesticide use in America.”

While wild turkeys are now considered common on Mount Desert Island, according to a bird list for MDI available through the Acadia Birding Festival, it wasn’t that long ago that they arrived in sizable numbers in Acadia and surrounding communities.

The first time Good remembers seeing a turkey in Acadia National Park was around 2001 or 2002, and in Town Hill, around 1999. “Their numbers have been increasing since then. We have seen as many as 30 in one flock in Town Hill.”

History of wild turkeys in Maine

Turkeys were extirpated in Maine in the 1800s with the loss of forests and unrestricted hunting, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

wild turkeys

When we saw this flock of wild turkeys near Acadia National Park’s Sieur de Monts entrance, we had to stop and take a photo. A group of turkeys can also be called a rafter, gang, posse, crop or dole.

In the 1970s, the state began a successful reintroduction program, with 41 wild turkeys trapped in Vermont and released in the towns of York and Eliot.

Since then, a combination of trapping 70 wild turkeys in Connecticut and releasing them in Maine, and trapping and transferring within the state, has led to an estimated statewide turkey population in the tens of thousands, according to the state fisheries and wildlife department. The numbers now support a spring and fall hunting season, and birds are found well inland and east into Hancock County, which includes Mount Desert Island.

Talking turkey about wild turkeys

Here are some fun facts for those wild about turkeys, compiled from the Web sites of the National Wildlife Federation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

  • A group of turkeys can be called a rafter, a gang, a flock, a posse, a crop or a dole
  • Turkey gobbling can be heard as far as a mile away
  • Turkeys can cluck and purr and make other sounds other than the familiar gobble
  • They sleep in trees
  • They can fly as fast as 55 miles per hour, and run up to 25 miles per hour
  • Benjamin Franklin called the turkey “a bird of courage” and favored it over the bald eagle for a national symbol
  • You can tell a turkey’s gender and age by its droppings (j-shaped for males, spiral for female; the larger the diameter, the older the bird)
  • Adult male turkeys are known as toms, female adults as hens, very young birds as poults, and adolescent males as jakes
  • Named after the nation of Turkey by early European visitors, when trade routes went through Turkey
  • North America’s second largest bird behind the trumpeter swan and largest game bird, turkeys can reach heights of about 4 feet and have wingspans of up to 5 feet
  • An adult turkey can have as many as 5,000 to 6,000 feathers
  • Brought to the brink of extinction in North America by 1930 as a result of loss of habitat and unrestricted hunting, turkeys now number more than 7 million thanks to recovery efforts
  • The only US state that doesn’t have wild turkeys is Alaska
  • Only males gobble and have spurs on their legs

    wild turkey

    Wild turkeys can walk several miles in a day looking for food, which ranges from insects to berries, greens to grains. (NPS photo)

  • A displaying tom has red, white and blue coloration on its head, and fans its tail like a peacock and wiggles the wattle under its beak as part of courtship behavior
  • Generally only dominant males get the hens
  • Wild turkeys have chestnut-brown tail tips, while domesticated turkeys have white tail tips
  • Turkeys can swim if necessary by tucking wings in close, spreading their tails and kicking
  • Because of turkeys’ compact bones and long history as a food item, fossils as old as 5 million years have been unearthed across the southern US and Mexico
  • Wild turkeys in Maine breed in April and May, and depend upon dairy farms to survive the winter, with the availability of silage corn and manure with undigested corn at the farms
  • Turkeys can live as long as 10 years
  • Hens and their poults can join other hens and poults to form flocks of about 6 to 25 during late summer through winter, although as many as 50 to 100 birds have been seen together
  • Toms tend to be loners and do not do any parenting
  • Wild turkeys feed on insects, greens, berries, fruits, seeds, nuts and grains, and can cover several miles in a day looking for food

You can do a customized search for wild turkey sightings by place and date at eBird, or even join the site to report your own sightings of the “bird of courage,” whether in and around Acadia National Park or anywhere else you may happen to see them.

Or you can play one of half a dozen turkey sounds, from gobbles to purrs, in honor of what Benjamin Franklin considered a better national symbol than the bald eagle.

The magnificent wild turkey deserves our respect. And not just around Thanksgiving.

3 thoughts on “Hearing the call of wild turkeys in Acadia National Park

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