Turkeys are killing all the grouse

Social media is known for its many benefits, including filling all our free time and giving us something to do on the toilet. But did you know it’s a hotbed for ordinary people who know things that experts are unwilling to tell us?

That’s right. I’ve learned lots recently from a grouse hunting group I belong to on Facebook, and I’ve been dying to tell you about one thing in particular: turkeys are killing all the grouse. 

I couldn’t believe I’d never heard or read anything about this phenomenon before. As luck would have it, there are plenty of folks who have. And the longer you dig on Facebook, the more completely true, not-made-up stuff you will learn from them.

The evidence turned out to be deep and fascinating. There are some skeptics who call it into question, but they are clearly outnumbered. One commenter had a riveting tale to tell: “My buddy’s cousins step-dad [sic] said he saw a turkey eat three grouse whole and then it tracked down their families and ate them too.”

Another claims to have witnessed a turkey breaking grouse eggs and eating chicks. 

“I seen it!” he said. 

Now, whenever somebody uses the phrase “I seen it,” that sets off Level 5 alarm bells in the mind of a journalist—because that person has dropped an irrefutable truth bomb

It would be an understatement to say I was taken aback. I mean, how could this continue to be a controversy? 

Case closed, right?!

To be fair, I reached out to a Minnesota DNR turkey biologist for his take on the subject. Mel Eagris has studied the expansion of turkey populations from the Gallopavo field station for almost 20 years. He said, “In the case of Minnesota—especially in the southeast—forest characteristics have changed since logging activities slowed in the last half-century or so. Turkeys have flourished while grouse haven’t, because mature hardwood forest is more suited to turkeys than grouse. The habitat has fundamentally changed.”

I should have known someone working for the state would just spew a bunch of nonsense. Everyone knows that since the 1980s, “habitat” has been another word for “we have no idea what drives wildlife populations.”

While Eagris probably could have laid out data to support his theory if I’d requested it, there didn’t seem to be a need. As another turkey-attack eyewitness put it, “Are you gonna believe data over what you see with your own 2 eyes?” 

So, I made a goal to get into the woods this spring and witness one of these attacks myself. But first, in looking further into this phenomenon, I uncovered something even more incredible than turkeys killing grouse chicks. And there’s actually a logical explanation for why it’s gone unknown—until now. 

Turkeys are killing all the moose

To set the stage for this shocking revelation, you must first know two things. First, social media—especially Facebook—is a relatively new tool for disseminating information that traditional media ignores. It has only been in wide use for about the last 15 years. Most true things that happened before that have been lost to the sands of time.

Secondly, Minnesota’s moose have been on the decline for decades. More specifically, the northwest population has all but disappeared from its former range.

Yes, it turns out turkeys are moose killers. They always have been. In fact, they only recently turned their attention to grouse because they have expanded their range in northwestern Minnesota all the way to the Canadian border—and run out of moose to kill. In other words, they got bored.

If they weren’t such efficient assassins, grouse wouldn’t have a care in the world. 

You may have heard that wildlife biologists have been scrambling for some time to get a grasp on the decline of moose. For a while, they tried collaring calves in the hope of collecting new data. 

Unfortunately, there was a high mortality rate among collared calves, and they abandoned that practice. It was initially thought that the collaring process put too much stress on them. What they eventually learned was that turkeys followed moose researchers through the woods, watched from a safe distance, then intercepted the newly-collared calves before they could find their way back to their mothers. 

Figuring this out took a long time, but began with a suspicious amount of turkey tracks in the snow near dead calves. It was only through collaring vast numbers of turkeys that researchers were able to learn of their treachery. Then it was a matter of time until biologists began to witness firsthand the eye-pecking savagery that moose calves never had a chance of surviving. 

To confirm this incredible revelation, I contacted graduate students at Minnesota State University, Lake Bronson, who have recently written up the latest findings regarding the turkey/moose dynamic. Once again, my trail took an unexpected turn. 

Turkeys are going to kill whatever we want them to kill

In short, they learned that turkeys have an acute sense of smell. What sets this sense of smell apart, however, is that turkeys can only detect one scent naturally: moose. 

When a turkey catches a whiff of a moose (at distances up to sixteen miles), it gathers the flock and heads upwind. They then track down their prey within 20 to 30 minutes, peck its/their eyes out, and go for the jugular. Then they consume all ear wax, attached ticks, and nearby droppings. 

In a cutting-edge twist that takes advantage of their highly-sensitive sense of smell and single-minded killing instinct, researchers are secretly planning to harness the power of turkeys to control invasive species of all kinds. 

“I shouldn’t really be telling you any of this, but yes. First we’ll turn them onto buckthorn. If that works, next will be garlic mustard, black locust, and so on,” said PhD candidate Nathan Former. “All we have to do is remove their love for moose scent on the genetic level, and replace it with an appetite for specific plants. It’s pretty simple, really.” 

They expect their plan to work best in spring, when seeds of invasive plants first sprout and take root.

But invasive plants are only the beginning. Within 20 years, they hope to give turkeys webbed feet, then turn them loose on aquatic AIS of all kinds. 

“That will be more of a challenge,” admitted N. Former, “but right now we’re on target to eradicate starry stonewort by 2050.”

I’ll believe it when I read it on Facebook. 

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