Since June 2020, Turkeys For Tomorrow has grown from the humble idea of 14 individuals into a nationally recognized organization participating in and funding turkey research throughout the country. The driving force behind TFT is solely the conservation and preservation of the wild turkey. From the onset of TFT, its founders vowed that the wild turkey was the centerpiece of the organization’s purpose and mission. Answering the hard questions that would identify the root causes of the issues facing the wild turkey was at the top of the list for TFT and would provide the framework for the right research, education and potential regulation changes that would both sustain and increase turkey populations. In addition to the wild turkey being the sole focus of our organization, TFT will maintain transparency and accountability to our supporters and sponsors.
With the help of the Alabama Wildlife Federation and individuals that were known throughout the “turkey community,” TFT set out to identify and contribute to research projects that could help to uncover the causes of wild turkey population’s decline. Within the first seven months of the inception of TFT, three research projects were funded under the leadership of Dr. Will Gulsby of Auburn University.
One of those studies involves capturing and fitting hens with GPS transmitters to determine timing of nesting and incubation, nest survival, poult survival, and habitat selection. This would provide vital information on what factors contribute to successful recruitment of poults into the population.
TFT’s preliminary results of this study are as follows:
- A total of 20 hens were monitored during spring/summer 2022.
- 18/20 hens survived (90%).
- 15 hens (75%) attempted to nest. All hens in the study were adults at time of capture.
- 2 hens (10%) successfully hatched at least one poult. All other nests failed.
- Brood survival was 0% (none of the hatched poults lived).
Although turkey reproduction varies annually, these results clearly indicate there are serious issues with both nest and brood survival. Additional data will be collected in coming years that should provide a more accurate representation of poult production over time, as well as factors that contribute to successful and unsuccessful nests and broods.
A second study was conducted to determine if disease and/or fertility issues in male turkeys are contributing to the decline in populations. To date, 401 carcasses have been collected from turkey hunters for sampling and analysis. All samples were collected in Alabama and represented 48 of the 67 counties (71%) across the state. Preliminary results of this study are as follows:
- A small number of these birds were clearly diseased. Results are pending lab confirmation.
- There are clear differences in testicle size among adult males. The implications of that are still unclear as further microscopic examination is necessary to assess fertility rates.
Testing will be conducted for the following pathogens:
- Lymphoproliferative disease virus (LPDV)
- Reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV)
- Select hemoparasites (Haemoproteus spp., Leucocytozoon spp.)
Prior to the conclusion of these studies in Alabama, TFT has expanded its research funding efforts to additional states. TFT has partnered with DNRs, Professors, and private individuals to fund research projects that will be vital to determining the issues facing the wild turkey population decline. The goal of TFT’s research efforts are multi-faceted: 1) provide research professionals the answers they need to establish change, and 2) provide the private landowner, hunter, and conservationist those answers as well in order for them to better manage their individual properties. By supporting TFT, these goals can be accomplished by the collaborative efforts of researchers and hunters in order to increase populations of wild turkeys throughout the landscape.
Photo Credit: WILDLIFERS TV