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Diseases in Wild Turkeys

This Turkey Tuesday is about turkey diseases, which is a topic that is being extensively researched across much of the species range. The most common disease that affects wild turkeys is avian pox, which is an infectious and contagious virus that causes lesions mostly on the head, legs, and feet. The bird in this picture clearly has the lesions, which are somewhat wart-like and form scabs that often turn black. Avian pox is primarily spread by mosquitoes, and does not always result in death. In fact, many birds may be infected and show no symptoms, and others that do show symptoms will recover from the lesions within a couple of months. However, some infected birds, like the tom in this picture, will show more serious symptoms such as swelling around the trachea and birds that get lesions in the mouth suffer higher mortality. The bird in this picture also shows telltale signs of being quite ill – he clearly hasn’t been preening himself and taking care of his feathers, leaving him looking ragged and un-kept. Ongoing research is showing that in many cases, dead birds that end up testing positive for avian pox may also test positive for other diseases, such as bacterial infections and lymphoproliferative disease virus (LPDV). LPDV can also cause tumors that form in the head and neck, as well as on organs. How impactful avian pox and other diseases are on wild turkey populations is a difficult question to answer, because in many cases sick birds are more susceptible to predation. Regardless, the take home is, if you see a wild turkey showing clear signs of being ill, alert someone locally within your state, such as a game warden or biologist.

© Tes Randle Jolly

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