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Severe Winter Weather and Wild Turkeys

This Turkey Tuesday is about how severe winter weather can affect wild turkeys. Wild turkeys have many adaptations to deal with severe winter conditions, ranging from the feathers that cover their bodies to behaviors that minimize exposure and energy expenditure. But research has shown that despite these adaptations, truly severe and prolonged winter weather can negatively impact turkeys at northern extremes of their range – severe cold is one thing, but deep snow coupled with severe cold are most impactful to turkeys. One, effects of winter conditions have been shown to vary across flocks, with some flocks being disproportionately impacted because they may be restricted to areas with less food or quality roosting sites. Two, severe winters can negatively impact reproduction in spring, as hens (particularly young hens) have lower nest success or may forgo nesting. Three, flocks can experience mortalities during extreme winter weather events, contributing to lower survival across the population. Lastly, research has also shown that when a population deals with truly severe winters that negatively impact reproduction and survival, it may take several years for the population to recover. The take home is, severe winters with deep snow and prolonged cold can be impactful to local turkey populations, despite the many adaptations the bird has to deal with such conditions.

Pics by Joe Foster.

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