From the Fall 2010 Conservationist for Kids
By Gina Jack and Michael Schiavone
To help turkeys survive and thrive, we needed to understand how they live, what they eat, what eats them, and why their populations rise or fall.
Wildlife managers use science to understand the threats that wildlife face: loss of habitat, poor habitat quality, disease, predators, weather, and more. They study animals and their habitats to understand what they require to survive, why their populations change over time, and how they can help wildlife overcome threats. They use the data they gather to make wise choices to help wildlife. The wildlife they help may be rare, common, or overabundant (too many). What they learn helps them to keep wildlife populations at a level that their local habitat can support.
This information was essential to the wildlife managers who worked to restore turkeys to New York State. It helps today's wildlife managers ensure that turkey populations are healthy now and in the future.
How we study turkeys
Bands are sometimes placed on a bird's leg. Each band has a unique identification number, like a name tag. When a band is found and reported or "called in," biologists get information about the bird it came from, starting with where and when it was banded and where and when the band was found. Sometimes people find the carcasses (dead bodies) of birds killed by predators or hit by cars and call in the band. Every year more than 100,000 hunters harvest more than 35,000 turkeys. When hunters harvest turkeys, they must report each one to DEC. This information, along with reports of birds with leg bands, helps biologists better manage the turkey population.
Satellite transmitters allow biologists to follow an animal's movements when they are out of sight. With radio or satellite transmitters, researchers can learn how long turkeys survive, or track a hen to a nest to learn about the fate of her eggs or poults.
What have wildlife managers learned about turkeys?
The dense forests of the 1600s were not the best turkey habitat. People who study turkeys learned that a mix of woodlands with nearby old fields and crop fields offer turkeys more variety, with appropriate areas for nesting, feeding, raising young, and roosting in trees. Where this combination of habitat types is found, turkey populations flourish.
Other than humans, the greatest threats to turkey survival today are predation and weather. Raccoons, skunks, and opossums are experts at sniffing out and eating turkey eggs. If the eggs survive and hatch, the young poults might be caught by a variety of predators, including hawks and foxes. Cold, wet weather in spring and summer make it hard for poults to stay warm, and some die of hypothermia when their body temperature falls too low.
Even though adults are large and can run and fly quickly, they can be killed by predators such as coyotes. Add to this the challenge of trying to survive a cold, snowy winter, and you quickly realize that it's tough out there for a turkey!
While turkeys are now common in New York State, upland sandpiper populations are falling as the grassland habitat they depend upon disappears. Their population today is less than half of what it was 20 years ago. DEC is working with Audubon New York to encourage landowners to protect upland sandpipers and other grassland birds by preserving and improving their habitats. With the help of concerned people, grassland habitats and the wildlife that depend upon them will survive. [photo of upland sandpiper]
Paying for Wildlife Conservation
Most of the money for wildlife improvement projects in New York State comes from the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses, and from the federal government. Money from license sales goes into a special account called the Conservation Fund. It is used for helping all kinds of wildlife, such as butterflies, bears and eagles.
In 1937, Congress passed a law that guaranteed funding to states for wildlife conservation. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act says that anyone who buys guns, ammunition or archery equipment must pay a special tax. This money is given to the states to help them manage wildlife populations and the habitats they depend upon. This money makes it possible for states to plan and carry out important wildlife conservation projects.
These federal funds have been used for many projects-the care of lands set aside for wildlife habitat; research on specific species such as turkeys, grouse, songbirds, deer and bats; restoring species like eagles and falcons-to name just a few. Since the start of the program, New York State has received more than $150 million.
Turkey Tidbits: Turkeys are the largest and most popular game bird in New York State. Wild turkeys can fly 40 to 55 miles per hour, and they can run more than 12 miles per hour. They can even swim!
Toms or Gobblers
Adult males (at least 2 years old)
Reach 17 to 20 pounds
Feathers are very dark; head featherless with white, blue and red skin
Have beards under their chins and spurs on the backs of their legs
Sound is a "gobble"
Adult females (at least 2 years old)
Reach 10 to 13 pounds
Feathers are brown; head with few feathers and blue-grey skin
Make yelp, cluck and purr sounds
Young males or females (up to 6 months old)
From about 6 months old until they become adults, males are called jakes, and females are called jennies.
Sounds include peep, purr and putt.