Estimating the Size of a Wild Turkey Population

This Turkey Tuesday is about finding ways to estimate the size of a wild turkey population. For decades, we’ve lacked an understanding of how many birds are in our populations. That puts managers in a tough situation, because understanding how management strategies, harvest, disease, and other factors influence populations is hamstrung by not knowing how many birds are in the population. Many of us use trail camera surveys to understand deer populations, and that technique has become quite popular and is known to be fairly effective for estimating deer abundance. But what about turkeys? Recent research in Texas directed by Bret Collier and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provided some interesting answers. First, turkeys were translocated from other states to a site where no turkeys occurred as part of ongoing restoration efforts. Second, all of the birds were uniquely banded with colored leg bands, and many of them were also fitted with GPS units. Third, after the birds acclimated to the site, a baited camera survey across a 30-day period collected tons of pictures of turkeys, and several techniques were used to estimate abundance. Fourth, the estimates were then compared to the known population size, because how many birds had been translocated to the site and were alive when the survey began was known. All of the estimates either dramatically overestimated or underestimated how many birds were actually in the population, and none of the estimates even encompassed the known population size! The take home is, trail camera surveys can be a good way to keep tabs on birds in your local area, and can provide information on areas birds are using – but those same surveys are not a reliable way to estimate how many birds are in the local population.

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