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02/02/2012

Turkeys Accused of Fowl Play

For many years, some have wrongfully blamed wild turkeys for devastating quail populations by eating quail eggs and chicks. This idea may sound ridiculous, but, once again, it is making the rounds.

Quail populations in some regions have declined over the last two decades while wild turkey populations have dramatically increased at the same time, but there is no scientific data that points to turkeys as the culprits.

In fact, a lack of quality quail habitat - not turkey predation - is to blame.

Quail thrive in early growth habitat, which is dominated by small, food-bearing shrubs, weeds and grasses that provide plenty of ground cover for the small birds to avoid predators. Wild turkeys, in contrast, are more opportunistic and use all habitat types from early successional woodlands and prairies to older, more mature forests.

In the early to mid-20th century, when small family farms were popular, quail populations thrived. Wild plums, sumac and other shrubs grew around field borders, providing food and protection from predators. Wildfires also generated new forest growth that quail require.

To meet modern agricultural demands, farms have grown. Today's farmers plant larger crops and mow field borders. Additionally, wildfires, which once cleared brush and restored plant communities to the early habitats quail prefer, have decreased and have not been replaced by prescribed burns in many areas. Without prescribed burns, young, brushy habitats perfect for quail grow into forests more suitable for wild turkeys. Each of these factors has contributed to the decline in the quail population, but has created ideal conditions for wild turkeys.

"Turkeys can survive better than quail in much of today's landscape," said Brandon Houck, NWTF director of conservation operations, Western region. "Because turkeys travel farther in one day than quail will in a year, turkeys simply have more options for finding food and shelter. The good news is that quail and turkeys can cohabitate when provided with the right habitat - like in central Kansas and western Oklahoma where quail and wild turkeys thrive on the same properties."

The NWTF is committed to the conservation of upland habitat and its mission has a great deal in common with the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI). As a result, the NWTF was selected to hold one of 12 seats on the National Bobwhite Technical Committee, which provides guidance for the NBCI. The NWTF is actively involved to efforts to bolster bobwhite conservation. In fact, many NWTF habitat projects directly enhance bobwhite habitat.

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