Talking, and counting, turkeys in Johnston


The turkey hen skipped past the Johnston Police Department.

Threading between traffic, the bird hustled across Atwood Avenue onto a grassy patch behind the sign for the Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School.

The turkey took flight for a few feet at a time, just slightly frazzled by traffic noise.

Eventually, the lone creature waddled her way toward the Marian J. Mohr Memorial Library. It stopped to take a peek inside, peering through the windowed walls.

The game bird caught a glimpse of its reflection in the library window.

She paused again, moving her head up and down, as though she was searching for a specific volume of fiction, possibly a copy of “Turkey Trouble” or “A Plump and Perky Turkey.”

Giving up on the window-shopping, the hen sprinted left, scurried behind the school and disappeared out of sight.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is asking the public to report sightings of wild turkeys.

They’d like to hear about any hens – both with broods of babies and without – and tom turkeys as well, to help with research efforts.

The information gathered from the public will help the agency determine the number of young birds that survive the species’ common causes of mortality, like predators, adverse weather and vehicles.

According to Jennifer Kilburn, principal biologist for the state’s Game Bird Program, turkeys may thrive in Johnston, due to a strict firearms ordinance, which makes it difficult to hunt the birds within town limits.

DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife conducts annual brood surveys, gobbler call count surveys and hunter harvest surveys “to get a better understanding of how Rhode Island’s turkey population changes from year to year and to better guide management decisions with the goal of ensuring a healthy stable population for years to come,” Kilburn said.

“To align DEM’s survey methods with those developed by the National Wild Turkey Federation, the survey has been modified from previous years,” according to the agency. “The survey window runs now through Aug. 31 and includes observations of tom turkeys to get an idea of the male to female ratio in Rhode Island’s turkey population. This survey traditionally provides the division with hundreds of brood reports annually and could not be completed without the help of citizen scientists.”

To participate in this year’s survey, the public can submit reports via Survey 123, an online survey platform.

The platform allows the public to download the Survey123 app on a smartphone and record observations on the go. Reports can also be filled out via computer.

“If residents do not have access to a computer or smartphone, observations can be recorded on a datasheet provided by DEM Fish and Wildlife,” according to the agency. “We ask that participants using the datasheet return them to DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife at 277 Great Neck Road, West Kingston, RI 02892 by Sept. 15.”

DEM works actively to protect and enhance wildlife habitat in Rhode Island forests and management areas to ensure healthier, more diverse, and abundant wildlife populations, according to the agency.

“DEM's turkey restoration program, which ran from 1980 to 1996, resulted in increased opportunities for the public to see and hunt wild turkeys,” the agency said in a press release. “The restoration project released wild trapped birds that established new turkey flocks in Exeter, Burrillville, Little Compton, West Greenwich, Foster, Scituate, and Tiverton. Restoration of the wild turkey was funded by state hunting license fees and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program.”

In Johnston, last year, no turkeys were harvested during the turkey-hunting season. In 2019, only one harvested bird was reported.

“I imagine that the following town ordinance may contribute to low harvest in Johnston,” Kilburn said, providing the text of town ordinance 169-1, relating to the “Discharge of firearms and other weapons generally prohibited.”

“No person, not being at the time under police or military duty, shall discharge any rifle, gun, musket, pistol, air gun, spring gun, or other small arms, or any contrivance armed to discharge shot, bullets, arrows, darts or other missiles in the Town,” states the ordinance, which is subject, however, to a long list of exceptions.

As more woodland space in town is developed, fewer places exist within town limits, where hunters can safely and legally hunt.

So, with fewer shotguns pointed their way, the turkey population starts to spill out onto roadways, parks and around the public library.


To report observations via Survey 123 please use the following link on your smartphone (you will need to download the survey123 app prior to opening the link) or computer

For more information on the Wild Turkey Brood Survey, as well as an observation guide and the datasheet , visit

For more turkey facts, visit Follow us on Facebook at or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.


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