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Learning More About Things We Thought We Already Knew

This Turkey Tuesday is about learning – in this case, learning things that we thought we already knew. Folks have been conducting research on wild turkeys for decades, and the ability to track them using radio-telemetry was a major leap forward in our understanding of their behavior. But the use of GPS, like the unit on the bird in the 2nd picture, has opened our eyes in many ways as to how turkeys behave. And, GPS data have shown us clearly that some of the things we thought we knew….well, we didn’t. So what are the top 3 things I’ve learned that I thought I already knew? One, hens don’t walk around and “pick” the best spot to locate their nests in the days leading up to the onset of laying. In fact, they don’t go anywhere near that spot prior to the day they lay the first egg. Instead, they fly down that morning, and during the process of moving about their range that day, identify a spot and deposit the first egg. Two, hearing a tom in the same spot 2 days in a row doesn’t always mean we’re hearing the same bird – we routinely see instances of toms switching roosts with each other from one day to the next. In some ways, this realization helps me rationalize why a bird one day acted a certain way when he flew down, whereas on the next day he acted completely different – it was likely 2 different birds! Three, there is no average tom when it comes to reacting to interactions with hunters. Before GPS data showed me I was patently wrong, I assumed toms that bumped into a hunter would haul butt and head for the hills. But in reality, every tom is different, and GPS data from toms interacting with hunters clearly shows that – each tom behaves differently when it comes to dealing with us hunters. The take home is summed up in a quote I read once, that is “education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know”.

Photo of tom by Stephen Spurlock.

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