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Osceola Wild Turkey

This Turkey Tuesday is about the Osceola wild turkey, also called the Florida wild turkey. Many hunters begin their spring seasons chasing the Florida wild turkey, because seasons open a few weeks from now in south Florida. Florida wild turkeys are restricted to the Florida peninsula, making them the most geographically restricted subspecies. They are distinguished by the less defined white barring on the wing feathers and darker overall plumage, which you can see in this beautiful picture taken by David McCleaf. There has been debate about the validity of the Florida wild turkey as a subspecies, as research several decades ago suggested that they were similar genetically to Easterns. More research is certainly needed using evolving genetic techniques. Others argue that Florida wild turkeys are simply Easterns that conform to Gloger’s Rule, an ecological rule that states that plumage on birds should be darker as you move into warmer, humid environments closer to the equator. Regardless, Florida wild turkeys face steep challenges that will require innovative management approaches. Anyone that has traveled to Florida can see the challenges facing wild turkeys – urban sprawl and habitat loss, competing land uses, and degradation of remaining habitats. These challenges aren’t unique to the Florida subspecies, but they’re magnified when you view the future of the subspecies through the lens of a bird whose geographic distribution is restricted to a peninsula. The take home is, ensuring the future of the Florida wild turkey will require diligence and cooperation amongst turkey hunters, agencies, and conservation groups to identify land management scenarios that prioritize the bird and the places they call home.

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