Talking Turkey Conservation

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Written by Lydia Saldaña

Thanksgiving week may seem like an odd time to think about turkey conservation. After all, according to the folks who track such things, 46 million turkeys end up on American dinner tables on the fourth Thursday of November. Their wild brethren usually escape the dinner table fate on that day, as most of us prefer a farm-raised bird on Thanksgiving. Healthy populations of wild turkeys across Texas are just one of many things to be thankful for this week.

Photo: Jonathan Vail

There are three subspecies of wild turkey in Texas, and thanks to efforts by landowners, conservation organizations and agencies like Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), turkey populations in Texas are healthy. It wasn’t always that way. Like many wildlife species across the country, turkeys were almost extirpated from their home range in the days before wildlife regulations. By the late 1800s, there were few turkeys left in Texas. Thanks to conservation-minded citizens, the first turkey hunting regulations were adopted in Texas in 1903, establishing a hunting season and bag limit. The dollars sportsmen and women spend on hunting licenses, along with a federal excise tax paid on firearms and ammunition, supports the wildlife conservation efforts that have brought many species back from the brink of extinction, including white-tailed deer, wood ducks, and wild turkeys.

The eastern wild turkey is one of the subspecies that can be found in Texas and has been the focus of intensive conservation efforts, including re-stocking the bird in suitable habitat in the eastern third of the state. Since 2014, more than 600 wild turkeys have been released at seven sites, including Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area near Palestine and in the woods of the Angelina National Forest and Brushy Creek in Anderson County. Another 160 birds are planned to be stocked in East Texas this winter. Thanks to these efforts, the population of the eastern wild turkey continues to grow.

Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

“We’ve had great support from landowners for this effort,” said Jason Hardin, Upland Game Bird Specialist with TPWD. “We were all happy to see a lot of young birds this past summer. Hopefully, we will have similar success in 2018.”

The most common subspecies in Texas is the Rio Grande turkey, which can be found in large numbers in South, Central, and North Texas. The highest density of birds can be found in the Edwards Plateau, west of San Antonio.

“Rio Grande wild turkeys are doing great in Texas,” notes Hardin. “We’ve had three years of timely rainfall and relatively cool summer temperatures, which set the stage for a population boom. Turkeys are being seen in areas of the state where they had been missing for several years, which is a boon to wildlife watchers and hunters alike.”

Photo: Jonathan Vail

The least common turkey subspecies in Texas is the Merriam’s, found only in remote mountainous terrain in West Texas. A few Merriam’s can still be found in both the Davis and Guadalupe Mountains.

Curious readers might wonder what a biologist who studies turkeys plans on eating on Thanksgiving Day. “A Butterball like everyone else,” he laughed. “We eat plenty of wild turkey the rest of the year!”

Hardin shared his favorite wild turkey recipe, which might come in handy for those Thanksgiving leftovers.



1 cup shredded cheddar and Monterrey cheese

½ cup chopped onions

12 corn tortillas

1 jar verde sauce

½ turkey breast


Preheat the oven to 350℉. Boil turkey breast with chicken bouillon cubes. (Skip this step if using leftovers!) Mix the cheese, onion, and shredded turkey. Add some verde sauce to the mix to moisten. Heat some vegetable oil in pan, cook tortillas to soften. Dip the tortillas in verde sauce. Place turkey mixture in tortilla, roll enchiladas, and place in a baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover enchiladas with verde sauce and more grated cheese. Bake 20 minutes or until cheese melts.

About Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation

Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Since 1991, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation has raised more than $170 million in private philanthropy to ensure that all Texans, today and in the future, can enjoy the wild things and wild places of Texas. Sign up to learn more.