Wild turkey research begins in Buckeye State

The Ohio State Chapter of the NWTF recently allocated $50,000 to support a new wild turkey research study that seeks to address population declines in the state.

With growing concern about population declines in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio State University are conducting the first large-scale study of chicken survival in the state in nearly two decades. The findings will help wildlife researchers and managers understand how survival rates, capture rates and reproduction have changed over the past 17 years and what factors may be causing those changes.

In the early 2000s, researchers determined that May 1 was the average date chickens began hatching; however, it is now clear that incubation start dates vary in different regions of the state. Changing climate and habitat conditions may also be affecting the start of nest incubation from the median date established in the early 2000s.

“There are increasing concerns about potential impacts regarding the timing of male removal during the hunting season, and therefore it is important to know as precisely as possible when the hens start incubating the nests,” he said. Ryan Boyer, NWTF district biologist for Michigan. Indiana and Ohio. “In many cases, state agencies set the opening dates for the season to closely coincide with the median date for the start of nest incubation, allowing time for hens to breed and nesting to begin. Ensuring that season start dates align with nesting chronology greatly reduces the potential for negative impacts on populations by removing males too early.

“Like the world around us, the ecology of the wild turkey is dynamic. We are proud to partner with ODNR and Ohio State University to support this research project and continue to ensure that the best available science is used to inform regulatory and management decisions.”

Mark Wiley, ODNR gamebird biologist, points out that it’s not just timing that can have an effect on nesting success, but also habitat changes.

“Afforestation (establishment of a forest or group of trees in an area where there was no previous tree cover) and forest maturation affect habitat quality, which in turn can affect nesting productivity and chick survival. “, said. “A deeper understanding of hen demographics in relation to changing habitat conditions will improve our ability to successfully manage a dynamic wild turkey population.”

From early January through March, ODNR staff will capture birds with rocket nets. Once captured, ODNR investigators and staff will work quickly to attach leg bands and GPS transmitters. The information from the transmitters will be invaluable to researchers.

“OSU researchers will download and monitor turkey location and activity data two to three times a week,” Wiley said. “They will use turkey location and activity data to detect nesting activity, movements, and mortality events.”

Researchers will confirm nesting activity by locating the birds on the ground, and after the incubation period, the team will be able to determine the fate of the nest, hatching rates, and the causes of nest failure, if it fails.

Three weeks after a successful hatch, the research team will locate and count the number of poults with each hen. They will also establish an annual survival rate for the hens from the transmitter data. These data will allow researchers to determine the sources of mortality and investigate the seasonal movements of the hens.

Results of the study will be shared with nearby states conducting similar wild turkey research projects, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and the data will be aggregated to provide a broader representation of how climate and habitat changes affect nesting at the landscape scale.

“The research project is important to all hunters, experienced or new,” said Bill Sulicks, president of the NWTF’s Ohio state chapter. “We are all looking forward to seeing the turkey population begin to thrive again as in years past. We think this study can guide us, in a way, in addressing the recent decline, and in saying this: ‘Once you realize a problem, you need to understand how it works, before you can fix it.’”

Field work, including turkey capture and telemetry monitoring, will take place throughout this year and 2024 and may continue through 2025. The final project report, thesis, and scientific manuscript will be available at the end of the project at 2025.