How Toms Respond to Risk from Hunters vs Coyotes

This Turkey Tuesday is about new research showing how toms respond to risk from hunters versus other predators, specifically coyotes. Turkeys evolved in the presence of predators and have developed strategies for navigating around risk as they go about their day. Previous research has shown that hunting is a more lethal form of risk for toms relative to natural predation, although coyotes obviously kill turkeys. In fact, previous works have shown that toms reduce gobbling as hunting pressure increases, often move away from roads, and occupy parts of their home ranges where pressure (risk) is lower. But new research done by Patrick Wightman is showing how toms behave differently to risk from hunters and coyotes. The work shows that coyotes and toms overlap home ranges, but core areas (where they spend most time) do not, and toms avoid habitats that coyotes prefer. But when toms do encounter a coyote, they don’t react by increasing movements but instead, quickly go back to their normal routine. However, after interacting with hunters, toms moved more and shifted to areas farther from roads where the probability that they’d encounter hunters decreased. These findings are consistent with other works showing that toms getting away from roads is a common behavior as the pressure increases with opening of hunting seasons. The take home is, how toms respond to interactions with hunters is more dramatic than their responses to natural predators such as coyotes, and those dramatic responses are something many of us turkey hunters can attest to when chasing birds each spring!

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