Still working for the wild turkey after 45 years

When the NWTF was founded in 1973, the mission was clear: With only 1.3 million turkeys nationwide, science-based conservation was sorely needed. With the help of the NWTF, turkey populations soared to a high of nearly 7 million in the 21st century, and the original mission was effectively complete.

Today, the mission is no less urgent for the NWTF or wild turkeys. We’re losing 6,000 acres of habitat every day and with licensed hunter numbers dwindling, the NWTF launched the Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative in 2012. What our volunteers — alongside our partners — are accomplishing is not only imperative for the wild turkey and countless other species but also for the continuation of our hunting heritage.

One of the largest impacts to the survival of wild turkeys is habitat, and the NWTF took a strategic approach to the delivery of conservation work with the introduction of America’s Big Six of Wildlife Conservation. NWTF conservation experts identified six regions across the country with similar ecosystems and conservation issues. Those areas of concern, which became America’s Big Six, were established to help identify the most urgent needs and better monitor conservation objectives.

Objectives for those areas include creating and enhancing general wild turkey habitat, nesting habitat as well as habitat sufficient to raise healthy broods.

Actively managed forests result in improved forest health, increased water quality and reduction in risk of catastrophic wildfires. They also create the diverse habitat wild turkey need. To accomplish these types of habitat improvements, the NWTF works through staff, volunteers and partners to put boots on the ground. While this work certainly benefits the wild turkey, it also benefits many wildlife species, as well as the water quality many communities depend on.

The NWTF works to:

• Remove nonnative, invasive plants and trees

• Seed native wildflower mixes, forbs, grasses and plant native trees and shrubs to increase mast available to wildlife

• Enhance natural wildlife openings by removing woody vegetation

• Improve wildlife corridors

• Improve riparian areas that, in turn, enhance water quality

• Provide technical assistance and information to landowners who are interested in planting specific native trees or need to conduct prescribed burns

Much of this work also helps prevent soil erosion and control sediment runoff.

In addition to the on-the-ground work being done across America’s Big Six regions, additional outreach is also ongoing, including providing educational opportunities, policy work and continuing research.

Through the NWTF education boxes, information about wild turkeys and the habitats they need to survive is distributed to teachers through local chapters.

From watching legislation on the state level to helping mold new regulations in Washington, D.C., the NWTF and its partners are working to ensure wild turkeys and our hunting heritage are protected for generations to come.

And finally, back to where it all started: research. Wild turkey research is ongoing, helping to identify trends and best practices moving forward to ensure not only the wild turkey’s continued survival but to find solutions that allow them to thrive. 

What does good habitat look like?

General wild turkey habitat is comprised of trees that provide food, daytime resting, escape cover and, most importantly, nighttime roost sites. It also includes grasses that provide food for adults and are especially important to poults as they learn to forage for insects. Moisture from vegetation is also key to wild turkey survival and reproduction.

Additionally, wild turkeys need quality nesting habitat. Nesting habitat includes areas with a well-developed understory full of vegetation, as well as areas with a canopy layer to camouflage wild turkeys and nests from avian predators.

After poults have been born, the real test of the habitat begins. Brood-rearing habitat requirements include an insect-rich environment for efficient foraging. This habitat should also provide enough cover for poults to hide, but allow hens an unobstructed view for protection from predators.

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