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2009 Winter Flock Survey Results

The goal of the Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey is to use DEC staff and volunteers to conduct a harvest-independent survey to help determine long-term trends in turkey populations and to provide information to the public regarding the prospects for the spring hunting season.

During winter 2009 we implemented the first standardized winter wild turkey flock survey. This followed three winters of data collection to assess its potential for monitoring populations statewide (Table 1). The survey period ran from January 1, 2009 through March 31, 2009 and was open to both DEC staff and the general public. Survey participants were instructed to record flock observations any time during the three-month survey period, but to report each flock observed only once. We decided on a volunteer-based survey that does not use standardized survey routes or plots because of low costs in terms of supplies and staff time, wide geographic coverage, and the benefits associated with partnering with the general public in a citizen science effort.

We received 681 reports totaling about 12,600 birds (Table 1) from 52 of New York State's 62 counties (about 13 flocks reported/county, range 1-90/county). Six of the 10 counties with no reported observations were Nassau County in western Long Island, and the five counties that comprise New York City. Lack of observations from these 10 counties is not necessarily indicative of turkey population size in these areas.

Overall, winter 2009 was relatively mild with statewide temperatures close to long-term averages and snow fall about three inches below average (although temperatures and snow totals varied by region). Most regions experienced below-average temperatures and above-average snow fall during January, but mild temperatures from the second week of February through the end of March helped moderate this cold, snowy start to the season. Flock observations and the number of birds observed were relatively stable during the first 4 weeks of the survey, peaked during the first week of February, and then stabilized at a relatively low level for the rest of the survey period. The peak in observations tended to coincide with below-average temperatures in much of the state when it is likely that the physical stress of cold weather forced birds to forage more frequently, thus making them more conspicuous.

The Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) aggregates with the highest turkey density (birds/mi.2 of habitat, where "habitat" is defined as all wooded upland habitats, but does not include agriculture, developed areas, or open water) were the East Ontario Plain (2.7 birds/mi.2), Coastal Lowlands (2.2 birds/mi.2), Mohawk, Valley (1.5 birds/mi.2), and the West Appalachian Hills (1.0 birds/mi.2; Table 3, Figure 1). Some DEC Regions and WMU aggregates with historically high turkey populations had few flock observations and relatively low estimates of turkey density (e.g., Region 8, Otsego-Delaware Hills, Central Appalachian Plateau; Tables 2-3, Figure 1). This may be due to a lack of participation by DEC staff and the public in these areas rather than low turkey populations. While our statewide coverage during winter 2009 was adequate, using these data on smaller spatial scales may be problematic if survey effort is not uniform among regions or WMU aggregates. In the future, outreach to both DEC and the public is needed if the survey results are to accurately reflect turkey abundance and distribution.

When flock observations are grouped by fall season zone, the highest turkey density (birds/mi.2 of habitat) was observed on Long Island (2.7 birds/mi.2), followed by the St. Lawrence Valley (0.7 birds/mi.2), Appalachian Hills & Plateau and East-Central NY season zones (0.6 birds/mi.2), and the Lake Plains season zone (0.5 birds/mi.2; Table 3). The lowest density was observed in the Adirondacks-Tug Hill season zone (0.2 birds/mi.2). Despite the prevalence of suburban habitats on Long Island (e.g., lawns, golf courses), they comprised less than 8% of the flock observations there (Table 5). Alternately, a relatively rural area like the Adirondacks-Tug Hill season zone had the largest proportion of all flock observations in lawns/backyards. Some researchers feel these human-created habitats (e.g., backyard bird feeders) have allowed turkey populations to persist in areas such as the Adirondacks where historically they did not exist. As expected, the majority of observations in most season zones were in agricultural habitats (e.g., pasture, hayland, cropland) where birds feed on waste grain and manure.

Table 1. Summary of Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey Results, 2005-06 through 2009.
2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2009a 3-year Average
(05-06 - 07-08)
# Observations 481 1,074 640 681 732
Avg. # Observations/County 8 18 11 13 12
# Turkeys Observed 20,081 28,013 18,641 12,606 22,245
# Flocks Observed 588 1,145 733 681 822
Avg. # Turkeys/Flock 34 24 25 19 28

a During the three-year pilot study (2005-06 - 2007-08) observations were compiled from December through March, annually, and observations of all flocks were accepted without regard to multiple reports of the same flock. During winter 2009, the survey was conducted from January through March only, and survey participants were instructed to report each flock observed only once.
Table 2. Wild turkeys observed by DEC Region from the Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey, 2009.
DEC Regiona # Flocks Observed # Wild Turkeys Observed # of Birds/Flock Birds/habitat mi.2 b
Region 1 66 646 10 2.38
Region 3 26 824 32 0.26
Region 4 94 2,175 23 0.59
Region 5 112 1,888 17 0.29
Region 6 102 1,899 19 0.35
Region 7 64 1,810 28 0.66
Region 8 35 662 19 0.27
Region 9 182 2,702 15 0.89

a A map depicting DEC Regions is available here. DEC Region 2 includes all 5 boroughs of New York City. There were no reports received from this region during winter 2009.
b Square miles of habitat includes wooded habitats, but does not include agriculture, open water, or developed areas (based on 2001 MRLC data).
Table 3. Wild turkeys observed by Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) Aggregate from the Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey, 2009.
WMU Aggregate ID # a # Flocks Observed # Wild Turkeys Observed # of Birds/Flock Birds/habitat mi.2 b
East Ontario Plain 4 36 755 21 2.73
Coastal Lowlands 23 66 646 10 2.24
Mohawk Valley 11 50 1,004 20 1.51
West Appalachian Hills 14 149 2,173 15 0.97
Oneida Lake Plains 10 33 597 18 0.87
North Taconic Highlands 12 26 477 18 0.84
Great Lakes Plain 8 34 653 19 0.71
Hudson Valley 19 54 910 17 0.64
South Taconic Highlands 20 9 311 35 0.59
East Appalachian Plateau 16 29 1,095 38 0.57
Champlain Valley & Transition 2 49 786 16 0.53
Catskills 18 35 1,148 33 0.52
Oswego Lowlands 9 3 95 32 0.39
Neversink-Mongaup Hills 21 5 282 56 0.37
North Appalachian Hills 13 31 461 15 0.35
St. Lawrence Valley 1 34 390 11 0.29
Tug Hill Transition 7 9 198 22 0.25
New York City Transition 22 4 72 18 0.24
Central Adirondacks 5 18 429 24 0.09
Central Appalachian Plateau 15 3 77 26 0.08
Otsego-Delaware Hills 17 3 22 7 0.02
Northern Adirondacks 3 1 25 25 0.01
Tug Hill 6 n/a n/a n/a n/a

a Identification number applies to Figure 1 (see below).
b Square miles of habitat includes wooded habitats, but does not include agriculture, open water, or developed areas (based on 2001 MRLC data).
Table 4. Wild turkeys observed by fall season zone from the Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey, 2009.
Fall Season Zone # Flocks Observed # Wild Turkeys Observed # Birds/Flock Birds/habitat mi.2 a
Eastern Long Island
(1 week-1 bird)
66 646 10 2.70
St. Lawrence Valley
(3 weeks-2 birds)
70 1,145 16 0.71
East & Central New York
(7 weeks-2 birds)
248 5,918 24 0.60
Appalachian Hills & Plateau
(4 weeks-1 bird)
183 2,711 15 0.60
Lake Plains (2 weeks-1 bird) 37 748 20 0.48
Adirondacks-Tug Hill
(3 weeks-1 bird)
77 1,438 19 0.15

a Square miles of habitat includes wooded habitats, but does not include agriculture, open water, or developed areas (based on 2001 MRLC data).

Table 5. Percent of the flocks observed in each habitat type within fall season zone from the Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey, 2009.
Fall Season Zone Woodland Pasture/Hay/Row Crop Park/Golf Course Lawn/Backyard Other
Eastern Long Island
(1 week-1 bird)
57.6% 6.1% 3.0% 4.5% 28.8%
Lake Plains (2 weeks-1 bird) 3.6% 89.3% 0.0% 7.1% 0.0%
Adirondacks-Tug Hill
(3 weeks-1 bird)
22.4% 36.8% 0.0% 39.5% 1.3%
St. Lawrence Valley
(3 weeks-2 birds)
26.1% 50.7% 0.0% 17.4% 5.8%
Appalachian Hills & Plateau
(4 weeks-1 bird)
24.9% 64.2% 2.3% 4.6% 4.0%
East & Central New York
(7 weeks-2 birds)
14.6% 46.4% 2.9% 30.5% 5.4%
Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey by WMU Aggregate 2009

Figure 1. Estimated density of wild turkeys (birds/habitat mi.2) in Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) Aggregates from the Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey 2009. "High" (>1 bird/habitat mi.2), "Medium" (0.50-0.99 birds/habitat mi.2), and "Low" (<0.50 birds/habitat mi.2) densities based on number of birds observed and estimates of habitat area within each WMU Aggregate. For WMU Aggregate names see "ID #" in Table 3. The Tug Hill Aggregate (in white) had no observations reported during the survey period. "Habitat" includes all wooded upland habitats, but does not include agricultural habitats, open water, or developed areas (based on 2001 MRLC data).