NWTF Tennessee Helps Add New Dimension to Wild Turkey Research

NWTF Tennessee Helps Add New Dimension to Wild Turkey Research

Author: National Wild Turkey Federation
Published: January 27, 2023

“When we think of the NWTF and Tennessee, we can’t help but think about our 50th anniversary celebration in Nashville just on the horizon, but that’s not the only thing to celebrate in the Volunteer State — the Tennessee NWTF State Chapter recently helped expand research efforts that will ultimately benefit turkeys and turkey hunters.

The new research extends the work of an active six-year research project led by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the University of Tennessee.

Over the project’s six years, it has helped the TWRA manage wild turkeys with the best available science and has helped garner essential information for wild turkey management, including population vital rates (such as estimates of reproductive success and survival), habitat use, hunter attitudes and effort, disease ecology and the effects of habitat management.

“This project has provided our agency important information,” said Roger Shields, TWRA wild turkey program coordinator and NWTF Technical Committee representative. “Foremost is an understanding that the observed decline in the turkey population here is not due to poor survival of adults, it’s being driven by low productivity. Almost across the board, we’re seeing reproductive rates are lower than we’d expect for a stable turkey population.”

While the Tennessee NWTF State Chapter was involved with the Tennessee project at its beginning, the state chapter is providing additional funding to augment the project and extend the data gathering period.

“Because of our research success to date, we have an outstanding opportunity to continue this research to consider further the impact of timing of hunting seasons on productivity and to address several other important management-related questions,” Shields said.

These additional questions the project intends to answer in 2023 are:

1) Does the two-week season-opening delay influence basic reproductive parameters, based on data from the past six years plus 2023?

2) What is the effect of mammalian predator abundance on turkey survival and reproduction across the 10 sites TWRA and UT has monitored for the past six years plus 2023?

3) What are the effects of tailored, site-specific field and forest management actions on vegetation structure and composition used for brooding habitat?

With about 70 hens still radio-tagged from last year and with six years of previous data, TWRA and UT are well-positioned to tackle this new aspect of the research.

“We have collected data, yet to be fully analyzed, in 2021 and 2022,” Shields said. “This data, plus what we gather this year, will provide us a broader range in evaluating the effects of the turkey season opening date on basic turkey reproductive parameters, including nesting rate, nest initiation dates, clutch size, hatching rate and nest success.””

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Photo Credit: Original Author

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