Wet nesting season for turkeys, grouse

Albany – Some untimely rainfalls in parts of New York may have
impacted turkey and grouse nesting success this spring and
summer.

Although it’s a little early to tell for sure – DEC conducts its
turkey poult sighting studies this month – it’s likely some May and
June rains may have limited nesting production this season.

“The Southern Tier area looks to be normal or maybe down a
little bit, based on precipitation levels,” DEC wildlife biologist
Mike Schiavone said late last month. “The greatest drop could be in
northern New York. We’ll know better when we conduct out August
sighting studies.”

Schiavone said the timing of the rains could impact nesting and
brood rearing efforts of turkeys this season, and that grouse
nesting success “generally follows the same trends as turkeys as
far as year-to-year variations. So they might be down a little bit
as well.”

Schiavone said last month that “not a lot of poults are being
sighted, but when the hay comes down – about now – that should
change.”

Dry weather is critical to nesting success for wild turkeys,
notably during the nest-sitting process and then shortly after the
poults hatch until they are several weeks old. Turkeys are unable
to fly for the first two weeks of their lives, making them
vulnerable to predators such as coyotes, foxes and even house cats.
After that time, they’re able to roost in trees and that greatly
enhances their chances of survival.

Schiavone said he’s been monitoring precipitation levels across
the state and that most parts of the state were “relatively normal
to slightly below normal” until May and June when rainfall averages
were up in northern New York.

The timing of those rains is often more important that the
showers themselves. If they come at the wrong time for turkeys,
they can impact nesting and rearing success substantially.

The good news, Schiavone said, is that the state can probably
afford a sub-par nesting season for turkeys. Some spring gobbler
hunters who had their hunts stymied by scores of hens may
agree.

“We’ve had a good recovery in turkey numbers,” Schiavone said.
“They peaked in the later 1990s and around 2000, then saw declines
from 2000 to about 2004-05 when we had back-to-back poor nesting
seasons.”

Another factor, he said, was that the turkeys “had filled in all
available habitat” in the state. “So there was a natural population
contraction. We’ll probably hover at some kind of equilibrium level
now. For the past two or three seasons we’ve seen increased growth,
but it will probably flatten out and stabilize,” he said.

Schiavone said changes to the state’s landscape will also impact
bird numbers. Western New York, for instance, was once an area of
high turkey densities, but Schiavone said a lot of the habitat
there has reverted to mature timber and is less attractive to the
birds. “We don’t have the brood habitat out there like we used to,”
he said. “So we probably won’t see the kind of bird numbers out
there that we once had.”

In the Northern Zone of the state, Schiavone said early reports
are coming in that “a few people have seen ‘little’ poults in
August, indicating late nesting by juvenile hens or successful
renesting attempts after the first nest failed due to the wet
weather in May and June.”

He also said grouse nesting success may also be down this
year.

“With grouse, it’s all about habitat, and our best habitat in
the state is the St. Lawrence Valley and the western edge of the
Adirondacks and the Tug Hill area. All of those areas saw higher
than normal rainfall totals this spring,” he said.

DEC conducts an annual grouse log with the help of the state’s
hunters, and is also involved in a trapping study in parts of the
state to determine survival rates.

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