by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
The turkey population in Alabama is under a magnifying glass after the 2015 and 2016 spring turkey seasons. This is due to the belief that hunters’ are not seeing as many turkeys as they have in previous seasons, according to hunter surveys. Currently, there is not enough scientific data to prove anything or make any prompt decisions but it is highly recommended that any hunter that participated in the 2016 spring turkey season complete a hunter survey. This will help researchers and biologist pinpoint contributing factors to the POSSIBLE declining population. On the other hand, there are things you can do as a hunter and landowner to conserve and protect the turkey population that is inhabiting your property. Large stands of timber (as mentioned previously in “The Bend” article) are hugely important to long beards. Turkeys also require a few different food sources, as well as safety from predators.
Large stands of timber
Turkeys are amazing animals and smart as a whip, which coincidentally does not work in my favor! I have gone season after season with my favorite call boy (my dad) and they are still the hardest hunt. However, if you do not manage your timber properly, you will have a harder time even seeing a bird. Turkeys have very large home ranges (give or take 2,000 acres) and prefer large stands of timber interspersed with weedy vegetation for cover and brooding habitat. If the understory is too thick, turkeys cannot see well and will not utilize that area. It is important for them to have tall trees to roost in, but it is equally important for them to be able to see danger from those trees. A thick understory will unnerve turkeys and make them feel unsafe (turkeys also feel this way when it is foggy). However, an understory that has thick clusters of weeds and shrubs is very desirable for the long beard and his harem. Burning is a management practice that is very beneficial because it produces desirable habitat (in spots) and it also produces an insect buffet.
Different food sources
Poults rely solely on insects and as they get older, their diet begins to change to hard and soft mast and grains. Insects become most abundant after burning and provide new poults with the nutrition they need; this is why late winter burns are so important to turkeys. Insects provide an abundance of protein for the young and help them jumpstart their growth. Soft and hard mast is also important pieces of a wild turkey’s diet. Acorns, black berries, and other natural “masts” satisfy the turkey’s nutritional needs. But, if you want to keep the turkeys around in the spring, you must plant CHUFAS! Chufas might as well be labeled “Turkey Tiramisu” because it is a delicacy to them. Yes, they take a lot of hard work and dedication AND they cause a lot of stress to your soil, but so worth it! Other grains such as grain sorghum will also delight the turkeys and hopefully encourage them to stay on your land for the long haul. As for other supplemental foods, clovers and chicory are good cool season forages to appease the turkeys in the winter.
Safety from predators
Predators of all sizes pose a threat to the wild turkey population. Although smaller, the mammalian predators are the worst. Raccoons and skunks thrive off of turkey eggs (and poults) and will quickly decimate populations. To alleviate this problem, it is important to deter mammalian predators. Trapping is one solution that is efficient, yet takes some patience and skill. It is a skill that “you learn as you go”. The more you get out there and take a chance, the more you will perfect your trade and you will learn where the highest density of mammalian predators inhabits your land. Turkeys are sensitive creatures; if they feel threatened, they will flee. Female turkeys will only move their nest once or twice before giving up. They will abandon the nest after being spooked and try again the following year because it simply is not worth it. With mammalian numbers on the rise, it is becoming more and more pertinent to intervene for the sake of the wild turkey.
The management practices listed above are just a few tactics to help jump start the Alabama turkey population. I know how important turkey season is to many outdoorsmen and I strongly encourage anyone who turkey hunted this past season to fill out a survey. The ADCNR usually sends out emails to all that bought a hunting license, but feel free to beat them to the punch and contact them. The surveys will help biologists see the turkey population from a hunter’s perspective. On the other hand, it is our duty to protect and conserve wildlife. I feel that preserving large timber stands, supplemental feeding, and predator control is a huge step to conserving the turkey population, whether it is declining or rising!
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