Alabama Research Update (Year 1)

Preliminary Findings

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

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23 thoughts on “Alabama Research Update (Year 1)”

  1. The poult survival is shocking, hopefully there is a prevalent diagnosis that can be focused on.Thank you!

    1. Great research. About what I’ve already known. Now, what are we going to do about it?

      This has all been done before. Research is great, but doesn’t solve the issue. It’s time to take action, now. Otherwise we’ll still be researching what happened to them, when they are gone…

      Wayne Bailey, George Hurst, & Lovett Williams ( to name a few) already knew the answers to that research.

      We don’t have time to reinvent the wheel, in that regard. And until ‘the industry’ is willing to maturely discuss the detrimental effects IT has on the Turkey populations… it’s all hogwash to me. I don’t need to spend millions in order to know that poult survival is nil.

      1. Spot on. We have all known this for years. The state DCNR needs to offer bountys on predators and hire some trappers. They have the money.

        1. DNR’s own small portions of land in their states. Why is it that private individuals need financial incentive before they’ll do the right thing?

  2. I can only imagine if you have a number of coyotes on the property it would further reduce the poult survival and numbers. I’m curious if there have been any similar studies in adjacent states. If so, please let me know where I can find any similar studies.

    1. I think coyotes get a couple but best predators take the cake. Way to many coon, possum and skunks.

  3. Westley Taylor

    All these places that use chicken manure for fertilizer, if they have the avian flu, wouldn’t that pass along to the wild turkeys in the area that are using that fertilizer? Nest predators and juvenile predators of wild turkeys still needs to be addressed. No one traps predators for fur anymore

  4. Enlightening research like this should make everyone involved aware that hunting does not play even a small role in the ongoing wild turkey population decline, and changing/reducing turkey hunting season dates and bag limits only hurts hunter participation, recruitment, and retention while not doing anything to help the resource itself.

    1. Jimmy Harper the only reason we have Hunting seasons is to control population. Hunters are conservationists. It is a method of quality and conservation. I don’t see the killing of a declining population of any animal a sound biological reason. Especially the females.

  5. I raise Osceola Turkeys in Florida in a controlled environment. They are raised without predators and the survival rate is still low.

  6. I would like to know more about the study. Were these 20 hens all in the same area and what was the habitat like? Was there any trapping and was there any management of the property? I have lived and hunted on the same 400 acres for 60 years and I never remember not having poults in the summers.

  7. I live in south west fl. and I have participated in hunting leases and have ben disappointed in the turkey population. I sat on the corn feeders and shot raccoons to attempt to help the turkey population. In Florida we have fire ants and they will kill polts if they wonder into a large mound,so I always carried a large bag of fire ant pellets for them. I also called and shot crows, I have shot 750+ crows over the last five years on state and lease property. In Florida it is illegal to feed turkeys at any time.

  8. A lot of info missing. Curious about the habitat conditions. Guessing this was public land?
    I trap several properties here in Georgia (paid to do it).
    Two of the three properties had turkeys and one didn’t. After 5 years of trapping these properties all three now have thriving turkey populations. On July 8 of this year I was finishing up a property and pulling sets and encountered 2 different groups of hens. 2 hens together had 13 chicken sized poults. At the other end of the property 1 hen had 9 poults that couldn’t even fly yet.
    I trap each of these properties twice a year. Winter and Spring/Summer. That particular properties total for the year was 60 coons/possums 7 fox, 9 bobcats, 5 coyotes…and the totals are about the same every year.
    Trapping only works if you stick with it. This particular property also had never had quail and they hunted 2 weekends this past season averaging 6 coveys a hunt. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s only 700ac.
    Habitat and trapping will produce turkeys.

  9. Maybe I miss it… “why” or reasons for the failures preventing a successful hatching and rearing poults to…. say, one yr old?

  10. I am so thankful that someone is taking a lead to find the problem and try and resolve the problem, as an avid turkey hunter l have seen the decline in at least 10 different states for the last 5 years or so , my main question is why in the world is the NWTF not funding your studies, they have the resources and are capable ?

  11. “Why reinvent the wheel and pay for new studies”…..I surmise most haven’t read the old studies. I’m very interested in this new project and would like to read the published research when completed. New research is never a waste. I suspect many factors have changed since the 70’s and 80’s when the previous research was completed (the increase in coyote population and range, new research capabilities (GPS, DNA, etc.).
    I recently started predator control on my property thinking I was protecting the wild turkeys (plus it gave me something to do in the summer). The research theories I’m reading now, however, suggest trapping may actually increase coyote populations on your property (transients moving in, increased litter size). Does removing large numbers of raccoon and opossums help or does it actually increase the population of other turkey nest robbers such as rodents, snakes, etc? I don’t know.
    I suspect what we don’t know, hurts the wild turkey population more.

  12. I think predators are the main reason. I have hunted turkeys here in south Alabama for 50 years. The main predators are opossum, coons, crows and coyotes. There’s others like bobcats and hawks etc. but the wild hog is the most destructive animal out there for habitat and they destroy nest as well. Something needs to be done.

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