Ecology and Management of the Rio Grande Wild Turkey in Oklahoma
The Rio Grande wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia) is one of two subspecies of wild turkey found in Oklahoma (Eastern and Rio Grande subspecies), and is one of six subspecies found in North America. The Rio Grande is the most abundant wild turkey species in Oklahoma and is found in the western two-thirds of the state. Rio Grande wild turkeys were historically found in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. However, due to extensive restoration programs, they currently occur in many other western states. The wild turkey is an important game bird and approximately 55,000 hunters harvest an average of 22,000 Rio Grande wild turkeys each year in Oklahoma.
During the late 1800s, wild turkeys were indiscriminately hunted and large areas of their habitat was converted to other uses such as cropland. By the late 1930s, only about 100,000 of an estimated 3 million wild turkeys remained in the U.S., and they were assumed to be extirpated in Oklahoma. In 1948, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) began its formal wild turkey restoration program when 21 Rio Grande wild turkeys were trapped in Texas and released in Harper County. This program was a tremendous success, and an estimated 120,000 Rio Grande wild turkeys currently occur in at least 55 counties in Oklahoma. Density of Rio Grande wild turkeys varies dramatically depending on habitat quality, with some areas having less than 10 birds per square mile and others exceeding 30 birds per square mile.
The Rio Grande wild turkey is the most widely distributed wild turkey in Oklahoma and is an incredible wildlife success story in the southern Great Plains. By understanding wild turkey habitat requirements and making land management decisions that will benefit the wild turkey, the number of birds can be dramatically increased in many cases.