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Livable Square Footage of Wild Turkeys

This Turkey Tuesday is about square footage – in this case, what is or isn’t livable. When we’re considering how desirable our own living space is, we often think in terms of square footage. More is typically better, but more comes at a cost – requiring balance on our part. Well, throughout the landscapes wild turkeys inhabit, they too are confronted with balancing costs associated with using the space available to them. In intensive agricultural landscapes, this balance is easy to visualize. Research has shown that in forested landscapes, agriculture can be quite important to wild turkeys. However, as the scale of that agriculture increases and most of the landscape becomes dominated by large-scale operations, conditions become more challenging to turkeys. The 2nd image shows the movements of a hen as she traveled > 70 miles across an intensive agricultural landscape in Nebraska and Colorado. From that broad perspective, you can see how she moved about, traversing around and through agricultural operations. The 3rd image shows more specifically how she’s used space to now be nesting – she uses the field edges but focuses her attention in the more natural plant communities around those fields. We see the same behaviors in many landscapes managed intensively for wood production – the 4th image shows movements of a hen in a landscape managed primarily for pine timber. Across these images, you see that turkeys are constrained in what they can use – much of the landscape is available but isn’t usable – lots of square footage, but not livable square footage. The take home is as many of our landscapes become increasingly driven by the need to produce food or other products, we will have to find creative ways to balance production with wildlife habitat – which is one reason there is so much research ongoing throughout the country targeted at just that – seeking ways to find that balance.

Photo of turkeys by Darcy Daniels

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