Every summer Since 1978, Wildlife Resource Division staff and Law Enforcement Officers dutifully record every turkey they see.
Tracking these wild Toms and hens takes place in the summer, and not in the month when we honor this bird. But turkeys and our Coastal Georgia ecosystem are still very thankful for this undertaking. The process of this survey is pretty simple. It is done during regular work activities, and no special effort is given to look for turkeys. While “counting turkeys out of the truck window” might not seem like advanced scientific research, this survey offers a powerful index of the health of our turkey population.
Priority on Poults
While we record all turkeys we see, the focus is on one facet of the population: poults. If you are unfamiliar with the term, poults are young fowl, and in this case, young turkey. DNR and other officers keep count of the number of poults that successfully hatched earlier in the spring.
In Georgia wild turkeys usually begin breeding in March. Once a hen finishes laying all of her eggs, she incubates them, day and night, for about 28 days. After a nest successfully hatches, the brood stays with the mother through the summer, and sometimes join with a several hens and broods to form a larger flock. When officers spot a flock, they count the number of poults and hens present. This gives them an opportunity to count the poults that survive. And, eventually, it tells if the population is trending upward or downward, based on how many young each hen raises each year.
Many factors affect nest and brood rearing success.
These include weather, predation, and habitat quality and harvest pressure and whether harvest is disrupting breeding. Generally, a healthy wildlife population can withstand these stressors. For example, a year with a cold, wet spring, may have poor production. But subsequent years of better weather will even out the population. But, if a region has many years in a row of habitat loss and increasing predator populations, then a year of bad weather or high harvest can be much more difficult to bounce back from.
Georgia, has to take a hard look at how we manage our turkey population. While many factors, such as large-scale habitat changes and predator abundance, are difficult for biologists to manage, we can affect harvest pressure through regulations, as well as limit disruption to breeding activities in the spring to improve reproduction.