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Winter and Spring Ranges of Hens

This Turkey Tuesday is about taking a hike – in this case, hens that leave their winter ranges and travel long distances to their spring ranges. Ongoing research shows that juvenile hens are often the ones that disperse from their local flocks and travel to new areas, rather than jakes. Likewise, although all turkeys move from winter ranges to spring breeding ranges, research shows that subspecies such as Merriam’s wild turkeys will often travel quite a distance from their winter ranges – this is at least partially because quality wintering areas may be far removed from quality breeding areas. The 2nd image shows data collected on a juvenile female in Nebraska as part of a study being directed by the University of Nebraska in collaboration with Nebraska Game and Parks. And this young lady covered some serious ground! She started out heading west in the end of March, and by mid-April had traveled a straight-line distance >38 miles – but she put >50 miles on her feet. As she traveled into Colorado, she used canyons to move about, and appeared to search around for suitable roost sites in the tree-limited landscape she traversed – this often resulted in her roosting near houses on farms where large trees existed. Her behavior clearly speaks to the need for conservation approaches in agricultural landscapes that balance wildlife conservation with the needs of farmers and ranchers. Interestingly, genetics work shows that turkeys don’t appear to disperse great distances, which results in a lack of gene flow across portions of populations. If this hen ends up raising a clutch and returns to her winter range after breeding, her behavior shows why gene flow is low – she isn’t dispersing per se, just looking for a place to breed and nest. The take home is turkeys in some areas can and will take a serious hike with the onset of breeding and nesting.

Photo of hen by Clayton Worrell.

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