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The Mid-Atlantic U.S. Wild Turkey Population and Movement Dynamics Study

18. December 2023


Since the early 2000s turkey populations have increased in some areas of the mid-Atlantic region, declined in others while remaining relatively stable in many. Understanding the reasons why populations have declined in some areas of the region while not in others requires examining these systems and their interactions, in combination with hen turkey population dynamics, to provide the information necessary to successfully manage turkey populations moving forward. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in cooperation with Penn State University and Wildlife Futures at the University of Pennsylvania, began a four-year wild turkey field study in 2022, with Maryland and Ohio joining in 2023, along with Ohio State University, and New Jersey joining in 2024.

Figure 1. Study areas in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Ohio.


Objectives are to assess impacts of weather and disease on survival and productivity among the various landscapes, assess predation rates of female turkeys and nests, and how they differ among landscapes, assess how hen turkey habitat-use and movement behavior vary as a function of landscape, weather patterns, predation rates, disease and coinfection rates.

States have identified 2 – 4 study areas per state that represent different landscape level habitat types and turkey population and harvest densities. In each study area, 25 female wild turkeys are trapped each winter of the study, leg banded, biological samples are taken (blood, cloacal and nasopharyngeal/choanal swabs) and fitted with e-obs transmitters (bird battery 1A type with GPS and accelerometer).


Figure 2. Hen wild turkey with transmitter on back (only the antenna can be seen protruding from the back feathers) and leg band. Photo curtesy of Molly Bayuk, a landowner on the Southeastern Pennsylvania study area.

Figure 3. A female turkey with GPS transmitter and leg band at a bait site on the central Pennsylvania study area. Photo courtesy of Tony Musselman, Pennsylvania Turkey Study Technician, Northcentral Region.

Objectives 2

States are using the same transmitters and techniques such that the data will be comparable. This multi-state study will provide a much larger and robust sample size than could be accomplished in one state and will provide both state level and regional level analyses. Several additional states and universities across the eastern and mid-west United States also are using these e-obs transmitters in similar studies such that data will be directly comparable among regions. This is the first time wild turkeys have been studied across multiple states using the same transmitters.

As examples of data we have collected thus far, as of mid-August 2023, field crews from the 4 Pennsylvania study areas had collected 1,552,755 GPS locations & 30.5 million accelerometer records of 271 hens equipped with e-obs radio-transmitters in the 4 study areas since January 2022. To date the crews identified 220 nest attempts in Pennsylvania and documented 86 mortalities between January 2022 to early December 2023. Ohio researchers have deployed transmitters on 49 hens, have documented 57 nests and have had 11 mortalities between January to early December 2023.


Figure 4. Pennsylvania Turkey Study Technician, Northeast Region with a female wild turkey prior to release with leg band and backpack style transmitter.

Figure 5. Pennsylvania Turkey Study Technician, Heather Flick, Northwest Region pointing to a hatched nest which was the latest successful hatching of a Pennsylvania wild turkey to date, on September 9, 2023.

Figure 6. A successfully hatched nest (below fallen log in the leaf litter) in the northcentral Pennsylvania study area, on a very steep and talus wooded ridge in Rothrock State Forest, demonstrating the variety of different habitats where hens successfully nest.

Figure 7. Brood survey with a thermal imaging scope for counting poults through the high grass. Turkey Biologist Aide Andrew Cushman was able to see 11 poults with these 2 hens, 5 of which were the 4-week-old brood of a transmittered hen and 6 were a 5+-week old brood of another hen. Brood hens typically flock together around the 4-week stage.



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