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The Spring Shuffle

This Turkey Tuesday is about the spring shuffle – soon, winter flocks of toms will start splitting up as tensions rise prior to the beginning of breeding season. Larger groups of toms will separate into smaller groups comprised of birds that can “get along” to spend time with groups of hens. The result is what many landowners and turkey hunters will see soon – one day there are toms on your property, and the next day they are gone. The 2nd image shows point locations of a tom from late January to early March (in blue). The red points are from March 8 to April 16 when he was killed by a lucky hunter. As you can see, this bird abandons the area he’d been using during winter and moves 2 miles to the north – literally, here today, gone tomorrow – and gone for good. Also, after the shuffle this tom goes from using an area of 1300 acres before, to 2000 acres in the 1 month after he moved. For private landowners who own small tracts, toms moving like this can be frustrating on one end or great on the other – it simply depends on whether you lose “your” birds or gain someone “else’s”. The take home is, turkeys naturally move from winter home ranges as spring approaches to new ranges where they reproduce, that’s a common behavior across the subspecies. The factors that influence the spring shuffle are complex, but one interesting thing is that birds tend to go back to the same ranges each spring when they decide to make the shuffle. This suggests that there are certain places on the landscape that are critical for breeding and reproduction, which we refer to as leks. Stay tuned, ongoing research is teasing out what is different about these places in hopes that we can inform agencies and landowners on how best to manage and conserve them.

Picture of toms © Tes Randle Jolly

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