GON’s Turkey-Nest, Trail-Cam Challenge

The number of turkey poults that survive is way down from the numbers of the past. What’s happening to turkeys? Let’s start at the nest level.

Daryl Kirby | April 4, 2017

A wild turkey hen will typically lay nine to 12 eggs each spring. From 1980 to 1989, the average number of poults-per-hen in Georgia was 4.1. The next decade, from 1990 to 1999, the average poult count was 3.0.

The average during the past 10 years was just 1.5 poults per hen. WRD has said that in Georgia a turkey production of 2.0 poults-per-hen is needed to maintain wild turkey populations.

Statewide, the estimated turkey population has dropped almost 30 percent in the past 20 years. Habitat loss could account for a good portion of that decline, yet there are many tracts of private land in Georgia where habitat hasn’t been lost, and turkey numbers still are not where they used to be.

GON has heard from many of those landowners who share their theories on the turkey decline. Suspicions range from an increase of nesting-season prescribed fires; to chicken litter being spread on fields that give turkeys avian diseases; to predators eating eggs and hens right off the nest.

Auburn University is in the midst of a multi-year study of wild turkeys in Alabama, where the statewide population has dropped more than 20 percent. Hopefully, there will be some scientific answers in the coming years.

In the meantime, GON wants to at least take a look at what’s happening to turkey nests by encouraging folks to put a trail-camera on a nest this spring. Keep a camera with fresh batteries in your backpack. If you bust a hen off a nest, place the camera on the nest, and then leave it alone for at least six weeks.

According to a research article, “Potential Uses for Trail Cameras in Wildlife Management,” published by Texas A&M’s AgLife Extension, cameras can be a good source of info.

“Data acquired from nest surveillance projects can be beneficial to understanding upland gamebird nesting ecology and predator-prey relationships,” the article said.

Some research indicated human scent may attract some predators to nest sites, so try to reduce human scent as much as possible during camera setup. Wear rubber gloves and boots. A camouflaged camera is also recommended, otherwise the camera may deter some predators and skew the results of your camera survey, the article stated.

Wild turkeys lay approximately one egg per day, so make note of how many eggs are in the nest when you set the trail camera.

Dr. Grant Woods wrote in his Winchester Blog in 2015 about finding a turkey nest and putting a trail camera on it. A crow got to those turkey eggs.

“This certainly fires me up to go crow hunting more!” Dr. Woods said. “With all the avian, mammal and reptile predators in most areas, it’s a wonder any eggs survive. It’s easy to understand why often nine out of 10 turkey nests are predated before they hatch.”

Let’s find out what, if anything, is getting to your turkey nests. Once you get a camera in place on a nest, make sure to e-mail [email protected], or call Daryl at (800) 438-4663.

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