ODNR needs your eyes and ears to help manage wildlife

Wild Turkey Hen And Poults

Never underestimate the value of what you see when you are afield, for the good of wildlife management and conservation, and don’t be shy to say so.

Right now, saying that, I am thinking about the personal reporting of summertime sightings of wild turkeys – gobblers, jakes, hens, and poults. The Ohio DNR’s Division of Wildlife has asked for your help, and provides an online web site devoted to individual reports of wildlife sightings, and this time of year turkeys are atop the list.

Just type in “Ohio wildlife reporting” on your phone or laptop and it will take you to the right place. Such reports from the public help wildlife managers compile a mosaic of “boots-on-the-ground” observations, each of which helps fill in a picture of a given wildlife species’ fortunes.

We all know here on Ohio that turkeys have not fared well the last several years, with poor nesting/brooding seasons. State wildlife managers already have proposed reducing next spring’s hunting bag to just one gobbler. The numbers are way down. I should know.

A couple of winters ago I was celebrating the sight of wild turkeys regularly in my western Sandusky County creek bottom. I remember my surprise and joy, watching a gang of birds trickling in to my late-winter songbird feeders, pecking at seed fallen to ground. Two longbeards, four or five jakes, and a gaggle of hens, all milling about. The jakes were acting like over-amped teenage boys and I smiled as I watched one of the longbeards scuttle over and knock them into line.

Here in northwest Ohio we at one time were told by state biologists that we just did not have turkey habitat. That was then. Over time, with some stockings, it was found the birds do just fine along agricultural creeks and streams and woodlots. The planted populations expanded. And two winters ago, after waiting for more than a decade, turkeys at last showed up in Froggy Bottom. I was enthralled.

But then they didn’t, seeming to disappear with the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic (a coincidence, I think). My trailcams showed a couple of hens at a corn pile once last November, and a couple more one time last February. Since then, nothing. No gobbling last spring, no birds, no birds, no birds, no birds. Something happened. I am at a loss.

In contrast, I have been helping out with some wildlife surveys at a new county nature preserve/park in north-central Ohio, still under restoration. I have been surveying deer numbers (too many, eating too many rare plants), and turkey abundance (plenty!). The numbers in a way do not surprise me, inasmuch as the preserve has an array of terrific habitat, and has been closed to access during restoration. It is a refuge, a haven, and wildlife know it.

During summer surveys our crew has seen and cell-photoed wild turkeys on at least four occasions. One fab shot by a colleague caught a roosting gobbler in a tree, plus a hen and seven poults, then three hens with eight or nine poults of three brood sizes, and then four jakes in a band. We saw more birds, regularly, this summer. But those are the ones we photographed and dated, and which I have duly reported, with cell-photos, to state wildlife managers.

Clearly, there are pockets of birds that reproduced well this summer in Ohio. I hope they did so everywhere. In any case, your eyes in the field will help paint the picture – good, bad, or ugly.

The summertime survey is conducted by state wildlife agencies across the wild turkey’s range, including Ohio. Information submitted to Ohio’s brood survey helps to predict future population changes and guide wild turkey management. In 2020, the public submitted 248 valid reports, with a statewide average of 2.7 poults per hen. The 10-year average is 2.6 poults per hen.

Categories: Ohio – Steve Pollick

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