Rhode Island DEM Looking for Poults

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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, known as poults. DEM biologists need the information to evaluate this year's reproduction of wild turkeys, the survival of the poults, and the population of the state's wild turkey flock.

Last year, 109 turkey brood sightings were reported, according to Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist at DEM and head of the wild turkey project. The total number of adults reported was 192, while 533 poults were reported, for a brood index of 2.8 young per hen. "This information helped us 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," Tefft said. The 2006 brood index of 2.8 young per hen surviving until fall was well below the 10-year average of 4.3 young per hen. The number of broods reported during the survey also declined significantly, by 31 percent. Weather-related factors 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 or threaten entire broods. Last year's turkey brood production was the lowest index ever recorded in the survey and can, in part, be attributed to wet weather during the nesting period last spring.

Tefft estimates the overall statewide turkey population at approximately 6,000 birds. "The distribution and density of the wild turkey population has improved in the state following our successful trap and transfer program, improving recreational opportunities and chances for the public to see a bird," he said.

The wild turkey restoration project began in 1980 with releases of trapped wild birds that established new turkey flocks in Exeter, Burrillville, Little Compton, West Greenwich, Foster, Scituate, and Tiverton. The project 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 of hens with or without broods, participants should record the date, the location, and the total number of hens and poults seen. Send the information to Brian Tefft, Wild Turkey Project, 277 Great Neck Road, West Kingston, RI 02892 or via email to brian.tefft@dem.ri.gov, or call him at 789-0281.