Research examines the overlap between predation and nesting habitat

EDGEFIELD, SC—NWTF is investing in a comprehensive Iowa wild turkey research project that seeks to identify how predation can inform the broader understanding of turkey nesting habitat needs.

One of the main areas of concern among hunters, landowners, and many others who care deeply about the wild turkey is the effect that predators have on the bird’s presence in the landscape.

While many predators no doubt eat wild turkeys and plunder their nests, birds have co-evolved with predators and are adept at evading them (hunters know this all too well), especially when the birds’ habitat needs are met.

However, this raises the question: what is affecting the wild turkey population more: the increase in predators or the lack of sufficient habitat to avoid becoming prey? Or both?

This question is at the center of a comprehensive research study of wild turkeys in southeastern Iowa, where there is no shortage of predators and the five-year-old chicken-to-hen ratio averages 1.9, indicating that the population is in decline. The ongoing project is being conducted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Luther College, and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The NWTF Iowa State Chapter is providing funding for the project, and the NWTF also invested in this project as part of its 2023 investment in wild turkey research.

IDNR began the 10-year research project two years ago in the southeastern part of Hawkeye State to investigate the factors driving declines in chick production and hen survival, as well as update and improve understanding of other data. ecological conditions of wild turkeys, including how habitat quality correlates with nest predation rate, female demographic rates, disease prevalence, resource selection, movement behavior, and more.

“Much of the information on wild turkey population dynamics in Iowa is out of date,” said John Burk, NWTF district biologist for Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. “There is no question of a decline, and there is also no question that predation plays a large role in it. We have always known the importance of nesting and breeding habitat and have a good idea of ​​what it should look like in general. However, our understanding of how these habitats need to be specifically juxtaposed in the landscape to reduce predation rates is something different that many ongoing studies on turkeys are taking a closer look at. Our volunteers in Iowa are proud to support our efforts to better understand what is affecting this resource and what we can do to conserve it.”

Since the project began, IDNR staff have tagged 161 female wild turkeys with VHF (Very High Frequency)-GPS transmitters. In 2022, the research team found that the overall nest success rate was only 11%, indicating a 10% decrease from previous studies.

“It’s important to note that we’re in the infancy of our study and it’s unclear how the year of data will fit into the long-term picture, but of these nests, more than 80 percent likely failed due to predation,” he said. Dan Kaminski, IDNR wildlife research biologist and principal investigator on the project. “Overall female survival was 55%, similarly indicating a decline from previous studies in Iowa and an area of ​​concern, although there are likely many interacting causes for this decline, including disease, predation and other factors.

Kaminski noted that the cause of an increase in predation and the extent to which certain mammal species contribute to predation of wild turkey nests and females are also unknown. The IDNR is examining whether poor nesting habitat is to blame.

“The relationship between nest success and predation in highly agricultural regions of the Midwest is not well understood,” Kaminski said. “Nest predation has been shown to vary depending on environmental factors, including forest cover and climatic variables, but much of the focus on nest success is on predation behavior, which can lead to biased inferences. about the decline in production. We need to better understand the relationship between habitat and predation to improve management efforts and avoid bias.”

Kaminski noted that previous studies of wild turkeys that examined the predation-habitat relationship used a qualitative approach (anecdotal data that lacks the rigors of quantifiable science) to correlate species with nest predation rates.

This new study is taking a quantitative approach, collecting and evaluating data that can be used to put specific numbers behind the predation-habitat relationship and ultimately paint a clearer picture.

For example, VHF-GPS transmitters attached to the hens will provide valuable data that will allow the team to identify when and in what habitat a hen is nesting, and they will be able to see if a nest fails from its movement data in near real life. time.

If the nest fails due to predation, using non-invasive genetic techniques, Kaminski and the research team will be able to identify which mammal species are preying on nests by collecting saliva from poached eggs and predated carcasses. This information, along with habitat and movement data, could fill in the gaps in current research.

Over the next seven years, the project will continue to tag wild turkeys, examine the cause of nest failure, survey habitat, and identify which mammal species are preying on nests. Analysis of this combined information will provide a better understanding of what habitat is optimal for wild turkeys to evade nest predators and could guide future habitat management efforts.

In addition, the project will also update other important information, including adult female survival rates, nesting and nest success rates, poult survival rates, clutch sizes, mortality rates from Specific cause of nests, prevalence rates of avian diseases in adult females. wild turkeys and wild turkey demographics update.

“Using this data, wildlife managers will be able to provide science-based management recommendations for wild turkeys and their habitats to inform the development of appropriate management policies and actions, with the ultimate goal of directing conservation resources. toward efforts capable of improving wildlife. turkeys and other populations,” Kaminski said. “While this work is taking place in southeast Iowa, its findings may have applications beyond state lines and may help conserve this incredible resource into the future.”

This effort is one of 10 new research projects the NWTF is funding as part of its 2023 investment in wild turkey research. Stay tuned to as NWTF highlights the importance of all of these projects and how they ensure a healthy future for the resource.

About the National Wild Turkey Federation

Since 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation has invested more than half a billion dollars in wildlife conservation and has conserved or improved more than 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. The organization continues to advance wildlife conservation, forest resiliency, and robust recreational opportunities across the US by working beyond borders at the landscape scale.

2023 is the 50th of the NWTFhe anniversary and an opportunity to push the organization’s mission into the future while honoring its rich history. for his 50he anniversary, the NWTF has set six ambitious goals: positively impact 1 million acres of wildlife habitat; raise $500,000 for wild turkey research; increase membership to 250,000 members; dedicate $1 million to education and outreach programs; raise $5 million to invest in technology and the people of NWTF; and raise $5 million to build a $50 million endowment for the future. Find out how you can help us achieve these lofty goals.