WDFW Q&A: Why do we have so many wild turkeys?


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Colville gets a lot of questions from the public, and one heard recently is: Why do we have so many wild turkeys in the area and what kind of turkeys are they?

Turkeys are not native to Washington, but it is now home to three sub-species of turkeys. They are the Eastern, Merriam’s, and Rio Grande. After an unsuccessful release in 1960, sixty Merriam’s wild turkeys were introduced in northeastern Washington by the National Wild Turkey Federation and WDFW in 1961. From the mid-1980s until 2003, Eastern wild turkeys were released in western Washington and Rio Grandes were released in the southeastern corner of the state. In total, about 2,400 wild turkeys were released into different parts of Washington.

Merriam’s turkeys, the subspecies most common in northeastern Washington, are native to the coniferous mountains and canyons of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. These turkeys prefer forests that contain ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, western white pine, cottonwoods, and other similar species. In Washington, these turkeys eat grass, leaves and seeds, ponderosa pine seeds, acorns, grasshoppers, forbs, and fruits like wild strawberries. However, turkeys are adaptable and can live near people in more urban areas, especially when there is available food, like birdseed.

Turkey populations are stable to increasing in northeastern Washington and turkey hunting here is some of the best in the state. However, large flocks of turkeys can cause agricultural damage and are a nuisance to some. WDFW’s management of turkeys strives to provide ample opportunity for turkey hunting, watching and photographing, while also reducing damage and nuisance issues where possible.  

If you would like to learn more about turkeys in Washington, including ways to mitigate turkey damage, and tips on hunting them, visit wdfw.wa.gov. Use the search box in the upper right hand corner and type in “turkey.”

If you have a question for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, send it to publicaffairs@dfw.wa.gov or call 509-563-5495. One question a week will be answered. In the meantime, you can find a lot of answers to fish, wildlife and habitat questions at wdfw.wa.gov.