A seven year study conducted by the National Audubon Society has warned that nearly half of all North American bird species will have their habitats severely restricted or altered due to climate change and water scarcity over the next several decades. Of the 314 species listed, the American Wild Turkey has been projected to lose 50 percent of their current habitat by the year 2080.
In a press release by the National Audubon Society, Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham detailed the threat to bird species, particularly those in Alabama and the greater southeast. “What the data is telling us is that the overall climate in Alabama will become much less suitable for turkeys by 2080. For the turkeys, Alabama is no longer really within its ideal zone, so I would expect they would become much less abundant. They could be rare to missing in Alabama by 2080, which is just astonishing for a bird that we consider to be so ubiquitous in the U.S.”
Unfortunately, troubles for one of America’s oldest national symbols has not been isolated to the southeastern United States. The western and southwestern United States have historically strong populations of wild turkeys, but the region has seen declining numbers due to the diminishing water supply – most notably in Texas and California. Acorn production, nesting grounds, and readily available water sources for pullets are all impacted by drought, making a successful breeding season challenging and first year survival rates incredibly low. 
In Texas, wild turkey hunting is truly legendary. Avid hunters from all across the U.S. and abroad arrive in Texas each year at a chance to hunt the state’s most popular sub-species of turkey, the Rio Grande wild turkey. With brilliant and brightly colored feathers that fan and silhouette the skyline, hunters eagerly pump $214 million into the Texas economy annually (the largest amount of any state), embracing the challenge of nabbing what many hunters believe to be the most challenging of all North American game. With the state flirting with continued water scarcity and climate change, the once prosperous Texas wild turkey season could soon be in peril.
Luckily, the wild turkey is perhaps the greatest wildlife conservation success story. Ever. Prior to European Colonization, the wild turkey population was believed to be nearly 10 million strong, inhabiting every corner of what is now the continental United States. In 1910, the country’s wild turkey population had been reduced to an estimated 30,000 birds – smaller than the combined population that exists today for orangutans, polar bears, and African elephants. 
Scientist agree that wild turkeys may have very well gone extinct if it had not been for a serendipitous national crisis – the economic collapse of 1929. In an interview with Stephen Messenger of The Dodo, Tom Hughes, a wildlife biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation explained that “with the Depression, a lot of rural residents, mostly small farmers, had no market and had no jobs, and they abandoned their farms and moved to the city. The areas they abandoned then reverted back to native habitat where turkeys started to regain a toehold.”
With the restoration of wild turkey habitat in its infancy, a wave of interest and technological advances exponentially boosted the recovering population. “The national Wild Turkey Federation was then established to help transport turkeys from state to state. We funded the transfer of turkeys from ‘have’ states to ‘have-not’ states – and that’s what brought the recovery full circle.” 
The story of the American Wild Turkey is nothing short of resilience. Nearly going extinct in the early 20th century, there are now approximately 6 million wild turkeys in America. In an era of uncertain climate that has affected water sources across the country, and an unpredictable future, let us hope that one of America’s most historic birds has one last trick up its wing.
 Pillion, Dennis. Audubon study: Climate change threatens half of North American bird species, including eagles, pelicans, turkeys. Advance Digital. http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/climate_change_threatens_nearl.html
 Israel, Brent. Turkey hunting season in Texas is in a dry spell, with more young jakes than bearded toms in the bead of hunters’ shotguns. The Daily Climate. http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2013/05/texas-turkey-hunt
 Miller, Matt. Wild Turkey Restoration: The Greatest Conservation Success Story? The Nature Conservancy. http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/11/26/wild-turkey-restoration-the-greatest-conservation-success-story/
 Messenger, Stephen. Americans Once Almost Ate Wild Turkeys Into Extinction. The Dodo, Inc. https://www.thedodo.com/turkeys-saved-from-extinction-839051692.html