CHADRON — In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Nebraska reintroduced wild turkeys from other states to its landscape after the big birds had been extirpated decades earlier during the nation’s westward expansion. The reintroduction was so successful that turkeys have again become common border-to-border and Nebraska is now able to return the favor to another state.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission led an effort this week to trap wild turkeys on a ranch near Whiteclay in northern Sheridan County for relocation to Montana. The turkeys were held overnight Thursday and picked up by Montana state wildlife staff Friday morning for release in the Great Falls area.
A total of 91 birds were caught, 61 birds in the morning and 30 in late afternoon. The total included 13 males.
Nebraska Game and Parks lured the birds to three roughly 400-square-foot netted enclosures and closed each door with the pull of a cord. Agency staff, along with a cadre of volunteers largely consisting of Chadron State College students, then processed the birds. After each bird was chased down and caught in the enclosure it was checked by a veterinarian and placed in a cardboard box, made just for the job by the National Wild Turkey Federation. The boxes of birds were stored in a livestock trailer until the journey west.
“Although they can be tricky to catch in the enclosure, the birds usually become rather docile once caught,” said Todd Nordeen, the Nebraska Game and Parks big game research manager leading the effort. “They won’t fight much when hanging by their feet and they do not even try to move around much in the cardboard boxes.”
Nebraska has used wildlife from other states for reintroduction efforts of a variety of species within its borders, including bighorn sheep that were captured in Montana and brought to Nebraska. Nebraska was able to return the favor to Montana by providing wild turkeys. It’s just the latest example of interstate cooperation to assist the range-wide conservation of a species.
Nordeen said Montana’s state wildlife division is seeking turkeys with characteristics of the Merriam’s subspecies. The distinct wide white band found across the tail feathers of those birds is predominant among northwestern Nebraska’s turkey population.