Study of turkeys in Kentucky expanded through funding from TFT

A study of hen turkeys expanded to include jakes and toms this year, thanks to funding from Turkeys For Tomorrow.

Dr. Michael Chamberlain and his team from the University of Georgia have been using radio telemetry to monitor hen turkeys in Kentucky for some time. Their studies follow the hens from late winter through late summer, tracking their breeding, nesting and poult-rearing success or failure. Funding from TFT allowed Chamberlain to expand that study to do the same work on males.

This past spring, he and his team captured and tagged 13 jakes and 11 toms.

“We had a few harvested, a few depredated and we are still tracking some,” Chamberlain said. “What we’re hoping to do is inform state agencies on survival and mortality rates of males to give them a better idea of harvest rates. This is the first year of a three-year field project. By the conclusion, we can put 20 or more tags on males per year, and we will have data on 60 or more toms. That will be rigorous enough to give the state an idea of harvest rates.”

This is an element of a broader, ongoing study by Chamberlain and his team tracking hens, taking blood samples, getting nest initiation rates, nesting success rates, studies of their habitat and home range use, doing brood counts and more.  “That part of the project also includes the gathering of gobbling data,” he said. “It will let us see whether the hunting season is timed to occur during peaks in gobbling activity. The agency wants to be able to put hunters out there at a time when they can have the best hunt.”

SIDE NOTE — In his years of study and a lifetime of being an outdoorsman, Chamberlain has seen turkeys die due to lots of strange things and unusual consequences, but this past season brought him a first.  “We had a tom we were tracking that flew into an electrical transmission line and electrocuted himself,” Chamberlain said. “That’s pretty remarkable if you think about it. I’ve seen turkeys killed by cars, tractor trailers, poachers and trains. I’ve seen them drowned and killed by disease, but I never thought I’d get a message saying we had one fly into a power line. But I did.”  Assistants monitoring telemetry in the field got a signal from the turkey’s equipment saying the bird was dead. When they arrived at the scene to retrieve it and see what happened, the bird was lying dead below a set of power lines and had obvious injuries related to electrocution.

— Photo Credit: Ron Jolly_TFT

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