MSU researchers seek better ways to count poults

How do habitat and land management affect turkey population densities and growth? Dr. Dana Morin and Dr. Mark McConnell at Mississippi State University are using support from Turkeys For Tomorrow to help answer that question. It’s an element of work they’re doing to establish a baseline understanding of turkey populations and how they can be monitored.

“This is a pilot project to assess a new method for estimating wild turkey abundance,” Morin said.  In collaboration with Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks and Weyerhaeuser Company, McConnell and Morin, along with graduate students and other research assistants, have selected eight study areas totaling more than 40,000 acres divided among public and private land. They are estimating turkey numbers through non-invasive genetic sampling, collecting the droppings and cast off feathers from turkeys through regular collecting periods. They’re currently in the last collecting period of the study’s first year. The study is planned to last two years. 

In three of those eight sites, they’ve flooded areas with a total of 200 trail cameras. 

“We are testing how well trail cameras can approximate the poults per hen index managers use to predict population growth the next year,” Morin said. “Ultimately, we hope to develop a method that would allow a landowner to assess population growth of turkeys on their land and track that to see the outcome of management techniques they apply.”

The project expects to be able to identify a practical, applicable method for land managers to use going forward.  

“This camera experiment, in combination with the DNA sampling, should give us a better understanding of how many turkeys are out there and how we can count them with more precision,” McConnell said.

Landowners wouldn’t be expected to deploy 200 cameras of course but, by using that many, the research team hopes to be able to tell landowners how many cameras are needed and where they should go to produce reliable results.

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