At the time of colonial settlement the wild turkey was widespread in Massachusetts, ranging from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. As settlement progressed, however, hardwood forests were cut and the range of the turkey began to shrink. By the early 1800s turkeys were rare in the state, and the last known native bird was killed on Mt. Tom in 1851.
During the period following the Civil War, land use patterns began to change. Farms were abandoned, factory towns grew and the woodland began to regenerate. Between 1914 and 1947 there were at least four unsuccessful attempts made by MassWildlife to restore wild turkeys to Massachusetts. In 1960, reflecting on the success of turkey restoration efforts in other eastern states, MassWildlife, in cooperation with the University of Massachusetts, tried again - this time introducing 22 turkeys (mostly of game farm origin) into the Quabbin Reservation. After an initial surge, numbers dropped quickly and only a marginal population persisted. Game farm turkeys were clearly unsatisfactory for re-establishing a self-sustaining population.
On the other hand, releases of strictly wild birds proved highly successful.
Between 1952 and 1974, the estimated nationwide turkey population grew
from about 320,000 to 1,300,000, and the number of states permitting
some form of open hunting season climbed from 15 to 39. Recognizing
the need for redirecting its restoration project, MassWildlife made
contact with other eastern states, and in 1972 was granted permission
by New York to live-trap wild birds for transfer to Massachusetts. Between
1972 and 1973, 37 birds were captured in New York and released in southern
Berkshire County. The new flock grew slowly at first, but expanded rapidly
after about 1976 with the estimated fall 1978 population totaling about
1,000 birds. Supplemented by an overflow from adjacent states, turkeys
ranged throughout most parts of Massachusetts west of the Connecticut
River. In-state transplants of the birds, conducted from 1979 to 1996,
expanded the range of the bird into the central, northeastern and southeastern
parts of the state. The estimated fall population of turkeys now exceeds