Rhode Island Asks for Reports of Turkey Brood Sightings

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The Department of Environmental Management is asking Rhode Islanders to assist its Division of Fish and Wildlife's wild turkey project by reporting any sightings of wild turkey hens with (or without) broods of young turkeys (poults). DEM biologists need the information to evaluate this year's reproduction of wild turkeys, the survival of the young, and the population of the state's wild turkey flock.

Last year the public helped by reporting 685 turkey brood sightings, according to Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist at DEM and head of the wild turkey project. That information helped DEM determine the number of young birds that survived after various mortality factors such as predators, poor weather, road kills, or domestic cats took their toll. "These reports documented a dramatic one-year turnaround in productivity for the wild turkey, with 88 percent of the reports being of hens that had young," said Tefft. The total number of adults reported was 1,321, while 5,256 poults were reported for a brood index of 4.0 young per hen in 2010.

The brood index also helps determine turkey population trends. Despite gains in the number of poults seen last year, Tefft noted that we will need several successive years of good productivity to recover the declined turkey population. The 2009 brood index of 1.5 young per hen surviving until fall was the lowest index ever recorded in the state and was well below the 10-year average of 3.5 young per hen. With declining productivity, the overall turkey population in the state has declined in the last few years. Weather-related factors and predators can dramatically affect brood production in ground-nesting birds like wild turkeys. Warm, dry weather favors the survival of turkey poults and other ground-nesting birds, while cool and rainy conditions in early summer can reduce survival and result in dead broods. DEM hopes that better conditions will improve production in 2011 and that the public will help by reporting information about turkey broods in their area.

Tefft estimates the overall statewide turkey population at approximately 4,000 birds. The wild turkey population in the state is a direct result of RIDEM Fish and Wildlife's successful trap and transfer program in the 1990s, improving hunting opportunities and chances for the public to see and hunt wild turkeys. The wild turkey restoration project began in 1980 with releases of wild trapped birds that established new turkey flocks in Exeter, Burrillville, Little Compton, West Greenwich, Foster, Scituate, and Tiverton. Restoration of the wild turkey was funded by state hunting license fees and the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration program. Wild turkeys were abundant prior to the 1700s but were decimated due to habitat destruction and subsistence hunting.

To report wild turkey sightings - hens with or without broods - participants should record the date, the location, and the total number of hens and poults seen. Brood report forms can be downloaded from DEM's website at: www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/turkysee.pdf.

Participants can also send the information via email to brian.tefft@dem.ri.gov, or by mail to Brian Tefft, Wild Turkey Project, 277 Great Neck Road, West Kingston, RI 02892.