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A gobbler gobbles into the setting sun.
Photo Credit: Monte Loomis.

Listen or Read: 2023 Wild Turkey Research Investment

Want to learn more about wild turkey research and how it is helping address declines and broadening the overall understanding of wild turkey ecology?

September 19, 20234 min read

Earlier this year, the NWTF revealed its 2023 investment in wild turkey ecology research, the largest the organization has made in a given year toward research: $582,374 dispersed among 10 vital projects across nine states.

With partner support, the NWTF’s 2023 investment into wild turkey research will be leveraged to nearly $9 million. What’s more, the combined commitment of NWTF state chapters' Super Fund contributions and the NWTF’s national investment in wild turkey research in the last 12 months totals over $1.2 million.

Below are summaries of the 10 new research projects and the ability to read more about each project by clicking on the title. You can also listen to the principal investigators for each project discuss the work entailed.

The Rio Grande wild turkey, a distinct subspecies of North American wild turkey found primarily in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Nebraska, faces many threats, such as habitat loss, urbanization, climate change, disease, and parasites, and these factors play a significant role in impacting the overall health of Rio Grande wild turkey populations. Recognizing their importance, a new study emphasizes the critical need to closely monitor the health of these populations to ensure their long-term survival.

To enhance the success of wild turkey nests and the survival of their young, it is crucial to understand the survival of hens, their choices in habitat selection, nesting chronology and nest site selection. These factors play a pivotal role in developing effective habitat management practices and help increase wild turkey nest success and poult survival.

Previously funded by the NWTF Oklahoma State Chapter, this five-year wild turkey research initiative conducted by Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation aims to understand the decline of the wild turkey and brood survival in the state. Through monitoring hen survival, poult survival, habitat selection, and exposure to disease, researchers are taking a comprehensive approach to understand these issues at a deeper level.

The significance of this research lies in its potential to enhance wild turkey populations in Oklahoma, as evidenced by the decrease in poult production, which suggests a brood survival rate below what is considered sustainable. Brood survival serves as a critical indicator of a balanced and sustainable wild turkey population. According to the ODWC, a poult-per-hen ratio of less than two indicates a decline in the population.

According to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the state's wild turkey population is estimated to have declined 45% from its peak 15 years ago. Current research from other states suggests that habitat loss coupled with predation are important factors affecting population declines. Consequently, habitat managers are focused on reducing potential interactions between nests and predators as a key strategy to address population declines.

In response to these observations, a new research endeavor will begin in winter 2023, investigating wild turkey survival and mortality as it relates to nest site selection in Nebraska.

In Wisconsin, a new research initiative intends to shed light on crucial aspects of turkey survival, recruitment (when new individuals are added to a population) and population dynamics (the factors that affect the increase, stability and decrease of populations over time) using innovative methods and technology.

The heart of this research lies in understanding the survival and growth of Eastern wild turkey populations in the Midwest. The project centers on Wisconsin's Eastern wild turkey subspecies as researchers develop a comprehensive picture of the turkey population's health.

One of the primary areas of concern among hunters, landowners and many others who care deeply about the wild turkey is the effect predators have on the bird’s presence on the landscape.

While many predators no doubt eat wild turkeys and ransack their nests, the birds have co-evolved with predators and are experts at evading them (hunters know this all too well), especially when the bird’s habitat needs are being met.

This begs the question, though, what is impacting the wild turkey population to a higher degree: increased predators or lack of sufficient habitat to avoid becoming prey? Or both?

The nutrition research is a component of a more extensive overall demographic study across the state that seeks to update critical wild turkey data, including survival, nest success, hunter influence and more. 

The poult and hen forage ecology aspect of the study will occur in three different study sites in Kansas – including Trego, Lincoln and Osage counties – and will encompass areas inhabited by both Eastern and Rio Grande wild turkeys. 

The research project utilizes recent advances in genetic analysis to better understand wild turkey ecology and how certain factors — such as hunting seasons, land type and management practices — can affect population densities.

In its second year, the project is improving estimates of various population data, which will allow state wildlife agencies and turkey managers to make better-informed decisions regarding management actions and hunting season frameworks, ultimately leading to a stronger population.

In 2019, a report in Science made headlines worldwide, stating that North America’s bird population had decreased by 3 billion birds since the 1970s. Researchers deciphered this staggering number using advanced statistical methods integrating wide-ranging data sources, including multiple annual bird censuses, historical data and even weather radar data that can quantify migratory birds. Now, researchers at the University of Florida want to take a similar approach with wild turkeys, painting a clearer picture of wild turkey abundance across the country. 

As part of its 2023 investment in wild turkey research, the NWTF is helping fund a unique project out of the University of Tennessee examining potential factors that may be causing wild turkey eggs to fail to hatch.

Filed Under:
  • Wild Turkey Research
  • Wildlife Management