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November 25, 2015

Whether you’re taking another slice of white meat or dark (or another helping of Tofurkey), spare a thought to the wild turkey, the undomesticated relative of the likely centerpiece of your Thanksgiving feast. Virtually wiped out in New Jersey by the mid-1800s -- due to overhunting and habitat changes -- 22 birds were reintroduced in the state by the New Jersey chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in 1977. Today, some 20,000 to 23,000 of their descendants are comfortably ensconced in the Garden State, according to the New Jersey chapter of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association. To get a sense of the size of the wild turkey population, Petersen’s Hunting website has named New Jersey one of the 20 Best Turkey States for 2014, noting that hunters this year bagged 3,387 birds.

As many New Jerseyans know, wild turkeys are apt to turn up anywhere, from city streets and suburban cul-de-sacs to open country and even South Jersey beaches. The birds are typically three to four feet high and can weigh up to 20 pounds. They can be very aggressive, and are known to peck at shiny surfaces like cars and windows. This is a particular problem, since wild turkeys are not “self-aware” -- able to recognize their own images -- and may continue to batter away at that bird in the mirror until something gives.

Several years ago, a wild turkey reportedly smashed through a window in a house in Smoke Rise in Morris County, wreaked $5,000 worth of damage, and escaped through another window.

Here’s hoping that your close encounters with Meleagris gallopavo are strictly of a gustatory nature. Happy Thanksgiving from NJ Spotlight.

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