Project between the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Tennessee Tech University, and The University of Georgia

Turkeys for Tomorrow (TFT), has partnered with The Hunting Public to fund wild turkey research in Kentucky due to a noticeable decline in the Bluegrass state’s population in recent years. Like many other states, Kentucky is interested in determining the root causes for the population decline and developing solutions that will reverse the downward trend. The project will consist of a three (3) year comprehensive study conducted in similar fashion to ongoing wild turkey research projects directed and controlled by Dr. Michael Chamberlain with The University of Georgia. The project will be led by Tennessee Tech University and work will be performed in conjunction with the University of Georgia and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.


The project will be focused but not limited to the following topics:

I. Analyzation of data collection in relation to gobbling activity.

II. Trapping turkeys for the purpose of GPS marking hens, banding male turkeys, and collection of blood for genetic analysis and disease testing.

III. Evaluating data to determine nesting and brood ecology including but not limited to survival, movement, habitat selection, etc.

IV. Analysis of female turkey survival.

V. Determination of causation related to female turkey and nest mortality.

VI. Observation of seasonal habitat selection and space use.

VII. Determination of male turkey harvest rates.

“There are several things that TFT support will allow that are currently not part of the study,” said Dr Michael Chamberlain. “One, we could purchase additional GPS units and place them on males which would provide valuable information.  The new units we’re using allow us to detail aspects of behavior, such as the precise time a bird flies down and goes to roost, that were previously impossible to detail.  Two, we could greatly expand the disease testing to do toxicology work that would greatly improve our inferences to include not only pathogens, but other potential problems in the environment (e.g. neonics).  Alternatively, receiving additional monies from TFT would simply allow us more flexibility when things go wrong and we have to fix trucks, replace atvs, etc. – things that pop up in every study and cannot be budgeted for at the onset.”

“Turkeys For Tomorrow is constantly looking for opportunities to participate in research projects we feel beneficial to the reversal of the downward trend in wild turkey populations across the country,” says Ron Jolly, co chair of Turkeys for Tomorrow’s board of directors. “Dr. Chamberlain and the University of Georgia are at the forefront of wild turkey research and TFT is blessed to be able to help fund this project in Kentucky. We feel this Kentucky study expands the footprint of ongoing studies we are supporting in Alabama in conjunction with Auburn University and Dr. Will Gulsby. We are excited to partner with The Hunting Public , The University of Georgia, Tennessee Tech University and the state of Kentucky to help wildlife professionals search for solutions to problems facing wild turkeys.”

In the February of 2021 Turkeys for Tomorrow was granted non-profit status and began searching for research projects that had the potential of answering the many questions surrounding the decline of wild turkeys across the country. What began as one study, led by DrWill Gulsby and Auburn University, quickly morphed into a four-pronged initiative to answersome of those questions. A partnership was formed with the Alabama Wildlife Federation toprovide the initial funding. Almost one year later other partners have joined the effort and more projects are about to be announced. The following is Dr. Gulsby’s report on the progress made sofar and what he hopes to accomplish as we move into the second year of this project. Dr. Will Gulsby:

We have collected just over 400 carcasses submitted by hunters as part of the male fertility and disease aspect of the study. These carcasses were submitted by around 160 unique hunters.

We’ve processed about 200 of those carcasses so far. Most look normal from a health perspective, but there have been several birds submitted with obvious signs of disease. Samplesfrom all birds are being analyzed by the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, and we’ll likely have those results back sometime in fall. The primary pathogens we are testing for include Lymphoproliferative Disease Virus (LPDV), Histomoniasis (Black Head), and commonparasites. We are also examining crop contents of all submitted birds to look at food resourceutilization. Carcass collections will continue for at least one more spring hunting season.

As part of the TFT/AWF study, we deployed 28 autonomous recording units (ARUs, songmeters, whichever name you prefer) across 4 private properties. An additional 50 ARUs have been deployed by our partners at the University of Georgia (Dr. Mike Chamberlain’s staff) on amixture of public and private lands. Access granted by Alabama Wildlife and FreshwaterFisheries allowed ARU placement on public lands.

Next month we will start collecting habitat data in the areas surrounding each ARU on both private (landowner access) and public (WFF access) to determine the relationship between property and landscape characteristics and gobbler abundance. ARUs will be deployed for a minimum of two more years.We are monitoring a total of

24 hens across two properties using GPS transmitters. For each of these hens, we will determine:

I. Nest timing and success

II. Nest site habitat selection and its effect on success

III. Poult survival

IV. Brooding habitat selection

Our goal is to add a minimum of 20 hens to the sample next year. We will also work to GPS tag 10-15 gobblers in year 2 to get a better idea of male survival on private lands. Finally, we have partnered with Dr. Steven Ditchkoff from Auburn University and the AlabamaFarmers Federation to determine the effects of feral hogs on wild turkey populations. More onthat project in the next newsletter. Jim Ronquest, co-chairman of Turkeys for Tomorrow’s board of directors, commented: “It’s very exciting to see the progress being made in Alabama with this research. We are blessed to havegreat partners who are willing to step up and see this research through. Even more exciting is to see the national interest in finding answers to questions that might help reverse the downward trend in wild turkey populations all across the country. I am proud to announce a new initiative in Kentucky today. In the next few weeks look for more news on other research being announced inmore states. Join us, and help us help wild turkeys!”

Exploring Research
Turkeys For Tomorrow is excited to be attending the 12th National Wild Turkey Symposium this week in Asheville, North Carolina.
This year, the event is hosted by the National Wild Turkey Federation and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The 2022 Symposium attendees include expert ecology researchers, academia, state and federal agencies, wildlife professionals in the name of conservation. The symposium highlights wild turkey habitat selection and movements, harvest dynamics, disease ecology, nesting ecology, population dynamics and human dimensions of turkey hunting. As we continue to build on research initiatives and learn of ongoing research on the wild turkey, Turkeys For Tomorrow would like to encourage academia and agencies to get involved. As spring 2022 comes to a close TFT is seeking additional opportunities to get on the ground research in other states for spring 2023. If you have a research proposal please submit more information to
PHOTO CREDIT: The Hunting Public
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