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Wild Turkey Gobbler Survival Study

Conservation Innovation Award

Award Recipients

Mike Schiavone - Biologist at DEC's Central Office in Albany.
Patricia Vissering - Biologist at DEC's Region 3 Office in New Paltz.
Karl Parker - Biologist at DEC's Region 4 Office in Schenectady.
Joseph Racette - Biologist at DEC's Region 5 Office in Ray Brook.
Melissa Neely - Biologist at DEC's Region 5 in Warrensburg.
Andy MacDuff - Biologist at DEC's Region 6 Office in Watertown.
Lance Clark - Biologist at DEC's Region 7 Office in Cortland.
Scott Smith - Biologist at DEC's Region 8 Office in Bath.
Connie Adams - Biologist at DEC's Region 9 in Buffalo.

Many other DEC personnel, both permanent and seasonal, as well as volunteers, also contributed to the field work of this project.

Summary of Accomplishments

From 2006-2010, DEC biologists and technicians cooperated with biologists in Pennsylvania and Ohio to assess male wild turkey ("gobbler") survival. This was the first study of its kind examining mortality rates of male turkeys as a basis of understanding the effects of hunting, and to improve our estimates of wild turkey population trends (via modeling).

banding a male turkey, also known as a gobbler
DEC staff banding a male turkey (gobbler).
After harvesting, hunters return the band to DEC.
This information helps DEC analyze turkey
mortality and harvest rates, which is then used
to help improve in turkey management.

There are about 250,000 wild turkeys in New York, and they are one of the most popular game species in the State. Over 100,000 hunters participate in the spring hunting season and 65,000 hunters take to the field each fall in pursuit of this great game bird. Many dedicated turkey hunters, and those less dedicated (or skilled), have strong opinions about how to properly manage this game bird. Over the last decade, DEC has received inquiries about all day spring hunting, expanded fall hunting opportunities (longer seasons), and larger bag limits for both fall and spring hunting. DEC managers and program leaders determined that we needed to have a stronger biological basis for decision making, and this study was conceived as a key component to improving management of this extremely popular game bird. The gobbler survival study, and another one currently underway, will enable DEC biologists to model harvest effects on turkey populations ensuring that hunting regulations balance opportunity in the context of turkey population dynamics.

During the course of the four-year gobbler survival study, DEC biologists and technicians trapped turkeys in 54 out of the 55 counties in upstate New York, and banded over 1,300 gobblers. When combined with efforts from Pennsylvania and Ohio, over 3,200 gobblers were banded and over 1,400 bands were returned by successful hunters. When band returns were analyzed, this meant a 36% harvest rate for adult males (toms); and a 17% harvest rate for juvenile males (jakes). Annual survival rates for toms were only 30-40% due to high harvest rates and relatively high mortality from other sources.

This research was the most comprehensive study of wild turkey population dynamics since the 1970s when turkeys were first actively managed in New York based on the successful restoration work that started in the 1960s. Through the efforts of the research leaders (noted above), and the hard work of our field crews, the project was implemented flawlessly. Not only was the research an exemplary case study in the great value of working in a team context with both regional and central office DEC personnel, it also was a strong example of the value of partnering with outside organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation and local sportsmen and sportswomen, and of course, landowners. This typifies our ongoing efforts for continuous improvement in science-based conservation and management.

Read more details and a summary report on this study by visiting the Wild Turkey Research webpage.

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