Where Did All These Big Island Turkeys Come From?

Turkeys along Saddle Road

Turkeys along Saddle Road

Where Did All These Big Island Wild Turkeys Come From?

The Big Island’s Wild Turkeys – if you’ve driven around the island you’ve probably seen them. If you take a drive upcountry on Saddle Road to Waiki’i Ranch, you’ll see several
flocks of turkeys sharing pastures with herds of cattle. With Thanksgiving almost here, it’s natural to think of turkeys… which got me to wondering – just where did all these Big Island turkeys come from?

Some internet research showed that the history of importing turkeys to the Big Island as game birds may have started as early as 1788. But, most feral turkeys that existed until the 1940′s were reputedly descendants of free ranging domestic stock imported from Chile in 1815.

So where do all our modern day turkeys come from? Well, the book ”The Wild Turkey” by James G. Dickson of the United States Forest Service traces it all back to 1961 when some wild Rio Grande turkeys were released on the Big Island at Puu Waawaa Ranch. From 1961 to 1963 there were a total of about 400 wild Texas turkeys released on all six major Hawaiian Islands.

These birds prefer the dry, higher elevations and have thrived on the Big Island, Molokai and Lanai but not fared so well on Oahu, Maui and Kauai.
It has been estimated that as many as 16,000 turkeys are now on the islands from those original 400.
And now you know where all those turkeys came from!

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12 Responses to “Where Did All These Big Island Turkeys Come From?”

  1. Matt Beall, PB
    November 24, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    I’m a big fan of Wild Turkey (101). ;-)

  2. Cecilio Manalo
    November 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    16,000 Turkeys. Will there be more or less Turkey after Thanksgiving Day? It should stay the same if you are a vegetarian. Mahalo for your information….

  3. Beth Thoma Robinson, R(S)
    November 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    Mahalo, Pat, I have often wondered as I stopped to let a family of turkeys cross the road at Kohala Ranch or scared the flock that lives in the mac nut orchards where I take my daily run.

  4. Katie Minkus, R(B)
    November 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm #

    We have flocks of wild turkeys in Puako – it’s a riot to watch the neighborhood animals, usually so fierce and protective about their territory, slink away in the face of these creatures! My friend Pete, who has lived in Puako for about 25 years now, says they wouldn’t be good eatin’ turkeys anyway – too grisly and tough! Not like our juicy, succulent (mmm…deep-fried)turkeys straight from KTA or Foodland on thanksgiving day… but I digress… gobble gobble.

  5. Sport Fishing Hawaii
    November 25, 2009 at 10:10 am #

    If you live on the Big Island you don’t even have to buy your turkey for Thanksgiving! Though I prefer fish ;-)

  6. Lucy Clark
    November 30, 2009 at 8:57 am #

    Tried eating wild turkey once. tough and stringy. They are in no danger of extinction :-)

  7. Sandy C. Shore
    December 1, 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    Witnessed a few fly into a tree one day in Waikoloa, never realized a turkey could fly! Thanks for the info Pat – and welcome to Hawai`i Life! It’s so awesome to see you working along side Katie and her crew! With Aloha – Sandy C. Shore

  8. S. Brewer
    July 27, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Living in Waikoloa on the golf course we regularly saw the wild turkeys that lived there. It was amusing to see golfers wondering how to get through them to their ball. It became easy for us to attract them by giving them old cereal and crackers, and once attracted will visit often and leave quite a mess. One old one-eyed tom would stand right next to me and eat out of my hand. I wouldn’t advise hand feeding from children as they do peck quite hard.

  9. Paul
    December 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Thank you for the info. I ‘googled’ several sites for wild turkeys in Hawaii, including government sites and just got hunting info. Your site gave me the historical background I was looking for.It was somewhat of a shock to me, being from the New England state of Connecticut, to see these creatures here on the Big Island. Thank You, Pat.

  10. John
    December 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Another example of men trying to adjust nature to meet their needs. It has been estimated for each species successfully into new habitat, at least three native species are effected negatively and one becomes extinct. What was lost from the Hawaiian ecosystem so golfers and tourists can be entertained?

  11. Pat Strausse R(B)
    December 11, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Hi Paul,

    You are most welcome for the information. Since I was wondering, I thought that the answer might be of interest to others.
    If you are just visting right now, you may not believe it, but my purely visual survey of the island seems to indicate that the numbers of turkeys is down quite a bit presently. I would think this would be due to the drought.

    And John, you bring up an interesting point. I don’t know what ecological impact the turkeys have had on the island. I do know that they have a major impact on people in the areas that they inhabit. For a period earlier this year, we had our horses in a pasture that was “shared” with up to 6 birds every morning. Which meant the water trough had to be dumped and cleaned twice a day and the loose minerals that had lasted a couple of weeks were gone every day. Glad we’re not using that pasture anymore!

  12. Donald
    December 18, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Have started seeing the turkeys in HPP. Figure all things being equal, at least the turkeys compete for food with other introduced species. Esp. rats & coquis. Also, here on the east side with all the attendent problems with snail and slug spread disease, maybe the turkeys will be a positive? Although if the population explodes (like nearly every other introduced species of plant and or animal has done) we will have to introduce wolves and on and…

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