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Rio Grande Turkeys Introduced in Arizona

February 1, 2008.

From the Arizona Game and Fish Department:

Fifty-five Rio Grande turkeys were introduced to Arizona on Jan. 16 by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), with assistance from the Arizona and Utah chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

All the Rios were released on BLM land at Black Rock Mountain in the far northwest corner of the state on the Arizona Strip (approximately 15 miles south of the Utah border). This terrain is similar to where the birds were transplanted from and their native habitat.

The Rios were donated from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources as part of a cooperative effort. Utah’s turkey population is doing very well and has areas where reductions are needed. Arizona on the other hand, is gaining a turkey population in an area that is more suited for the Rio Grande subspecies than for the more common Merriam’s subspecies. This translocation will enhance the diversity of wild turkeys in Arizona and the areas in which they can be experienced. The Gould’s subspecies has been reintroduced into the southeastern portion of the state and is doing well.

Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Manager Luke Thompson was on hand for the capture and release. “I am proud and excited to report that we have written another chapter in the history of wild turkey management for the state of Arizona,” he said. “Efforts such as this will ensure that the residents of this state can enjoy diversified habitats with full complements of wildlife species for many generations to come. It also exemplifies the department’s efforts on being a leader in progressive wildlife management.”

All 55 birds were given identifying wing tags and eight were fitted with radio tracking collars to help monitor and manage the flock’s movements and population progress. The transmitters are unique in the fact they attach much like a backpack. Nylon cord is looped over the bird’s shoulders, allowing the compact transmitter to rest comfortably in the center of the bird’s back.

The Rio Grande subspecies is very similar to the Merriam’s turkey, and it would take a side-by-side comparison to notice the differences. The Rio is slightly smaller and the banded accent tail-feathers are slightly darker. However, the most notable differences are the primary wing feathers.  The Rios are mainly black with small white accent bars, while the Merriam’s are white with small black accents. This turkey subspecies prefers areas with drainages and stream beds in relatively open brush and scrub country up to 6,000 feet in elevation. The Merriam’s prefers habitat that is a drier forested area reaching elevations up to 10,000 feet.

Turkeys make excellent candidates to be introduced to new areas of the state. They have little or no impact on habitat nor do they conflict with other wildlife species for food and territory. They capture, transport and introduce well with low mortality rates. In return, they bring viewing opportunities, expanded range and offer desirable hunting opportunities.

Turkey hunting in Arizona is regulated by a draw system. Demand far exceeds available permits – some years as much as a three-to-one ratio. However, hunters interested in harvesting each of Arizona’s turkey subspecies will have to patiently wait. Populations for the Rio Grandes will not be self-sustaining for three to five years, and hunts will then be limited at best.

For additional information about wild turkeys, visit these resources:
Arizona Game and Fish Department’s turkey page: http://www.azgfd.gov/h_f/game_turkey.shtml
Department’s online video on turkeys: http://www.azgfd.gov/video/Turkey.shtml
National Wild Turkey Federation: http://www.nwtf.org/.


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