Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)
The bird that was center stage at the first Thanksgiving, and Benjamin Franklin’s choice to be our national symbol, almost disappeared from Illinois forever. Like many other species of game animals, from beaver to otters to White-tailed Deer, the Eastern Wild Turkey was almost gone from the state in the early 1900s. Hunting seasons were closed in 1903, but it was almost a case of “too little, too late.” It took the dedicated efforts of conservationists to re-establish the Eastern Wild Turkey in Illinois. Starting in the late 1950s, thousands of birds were captured in other states and relocated to Illinois in order to bolster populations.
Eastern Wild Turkeys mate in the spring, with toms gobbling to attract hens starting in late March. Hens lay an average of 11 to 12 eggs (often one a day), and the eggs take 28 days to hatch. Today, we take stable numbers and healthy statewide hunting opportunities for granted. Turkey hunting resumed in 1970 with a grand total of 25 birds harvested. Illinois turkey hunters harvested 15,719 birds during the 2017 season.
Source: The Wild Turkey in Illinois by Jared K. Garver.