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The Explosion of Feral Pig Populations

This Turkey Tuesday is about a significant challenge faced by managers in many areas of wild turkey range – the explosion of feral pig populations. Feral pigs compete with turkeys for foraging resources, degrade habitats through rooting, and may compete for space with turkeys in a way where turkeys avoid areas used by pigs. But interestingly, feral pigs are not important nest predators of turkeys. Although several studies using artificial nests have claimed that pigs are significant nest predators, we’ve not seen such with actual turkey nests. Our field crews have monitored >900 nest attempts by both Eastern and Rio Grande hens across sites where turkeys deal with feral pigs. We’ve observed that only a handful of nests failed because of pigs, and only ~ 2% of nests could have even been influenced by pig activity based on evidence around the nests. So why the discrepancy between artificial and real nests? One, hen turkeys have evolved behaviors to avoid nest predation, such as staying on nests when predators approach and actively defending nests. Artificial nests obviously have no hen present, so no nest defense is possible. There’s also no evidence that pigs view hens as prey, or that they are attracted to hens on a nest. Two, artificial nest studies may not simulate actual nest densities because this density is influenced by factors that can’t be accounted for when placing artificial nests on the landscape – such as hens avoiding each other while incubating. These studies also often replace eggs after they’re initially eaten – creating a consistent food source that doesn’t mimic actual nests. Three, in many landscapes pigs actually use vegetative communities that are not typically selected by hens when nesting – in other words, hens are nesting in certain areas that pigs don’t find attractive. The take home is, feral pigs are a growing management issue for agencies and landowners, and their presence could be negatively influencing turkeys in a variety of ways – but currently there’s no evidence that they’re important nest predators.

© Tes Randle Jolly

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