Wild turkey inventories, past and present

If there’s one thing good old-fashioned winter weather does, it’s it gets the birds to the feeders. There has been a constant line at my feeders and I’m up to 14 different species including a first in 22 years, wild turkeys. I don’t recall any turkeys ever venturing close enough to the house to feed on the spilled seeds on the ground. But earlier this week there were five hens cleaning up the snow.

Around my area, the number of turkeys seems to have increased. When the beechnuts fell, two different herds worked on the hillside for several weeks. The flock of hens numbered well over 20 birds.

My observations appear to coincide with the results of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s 2021 Pennsylvania Wild Turkey Sighting Survey.

The survey begins in July and continues through August. Commission employees and the public submit turkey sightings, which serve as a long-term index of turkey reproduction and are used in the management of turkey populations. Wild turkey sightings have increased in 2021.

Statewide turkey recruitment was 3.10 poults per hen, which was significantly higher than the previous year’s 2.74 poults per hen.

Recruitment is difficult to control by management practices. Maintaining the spring season opening date to coincide with the middle of the nest incubation period and conservative fall seasons are important factors in population management.

Beginning in 2019, the new National Standard Turkey Brood Observation Survey has been adopted. This allows comparison of turkey populations between states and across the species’ range.

Survey data from five surrounding states (Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia) collected by the National Wild Turkey Federation show poult-to-hen ratios ranging from 2.68 in Virginia to 3.83 in New Jersey. It should be noted that New Jersey only had 55 reported sightings.

Compared to bordering states, not only does Pennsylvania’s wild turkey population appear to be thriving, but the state also has the highest public support in the survey. Over 3,800 people, on average, submit wild turkey sighting reports each summer.

Now the Game Commission is asking for the public’s help in reporting the location of any flocks of turkeys they see for current and new turkey projects. Information is collected online at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/TurkeyBroodSurvey.

Visitors to this web page will be asked to provide the date of sighting, location, and type of terrain (public, private, or unknown) where the birds were seen. Game Commission teams will assess sites for turkey trapping potential. Turkeys will not be moved; they will simply be leg-banded or fitted with GPS transmitters and released on the spot.

Trapping the turkeys during the winter is part of ongoing population monitoring as well as the initiation of a large-scale study on the hens.

“This gives us information on annual survival rates and annual spring harvest rates for our population model,” Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said in a recent press release.

These studies are conducted in partnership with Penn State University and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.

The population and movement portion of this work will examine the impact of landscape and weather on hen nesting rates, nest success, poult survival, predation, habitat use, and movement. The disease portion of the study looks at how disease prevalence varies across landscapes and impacts things like survival and nesting rates for hens of different ages.

“This will be the largest turkey project we’ve ever done, hoping to answer many questions about current hen population dynamics,” Casalena said.

Hunters who harvest one of the banded turkeys, or persons who find a dead one, are asked to report the band number by calling the toll-free number or emailing the the ring.

Mike Barcaskey can be contacted at [email protected]

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