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Wild turkey survival study to continue

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Local hunters may have noticed fewer gobbling noises on some excursions. That’s because the wild turkey population in New York has been on the decline for quite some time, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC will continue its research of wild turkeys this winter. The fourth and final year of a comprehensive study  will begin in January and end in March. The goal is to get a better handle on turkey survival rates and help improve management of the popular small game species.

Crews will place leg bands on the female birds in order to give researchers current estimates of their survival rates. Once the birds are banded, they will immediately be released unharmed at the same site.

DEC senior wildlife biologist Emilio Rende says predators are among the main factors for the trend.

“We’ve actually made some determinations that during those wet springs, what ends up happening is a lot of these turkeys are being preyed upon. Also we’re finding that there’s changes in the number of predators we see out there,” said Rende. “And also there’s some changes in the actual habitat that they are in, so there’s a combination of factors that have caused our population to decline.”

While the turkey is the most popular small game species in New York, there’s no need for hunters to feel responsible for the trend.

“We’re finding out that hunting is not contributing to the population decline,” said Rende. “Spring turkey hunting is very popular, then there’s fall turkey hunting as well. But we’re seeing that the numbers for the participation of fall turkey hunters is declining.”

Researchers are working to find a balance between wild turkeys allowed to roam and the ones that can be hunted.

“It’s very important for us to try to have the best science available to manage the [turkey] population,” said Rende. “That’s what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we’re finding what’s going on with the population and try to maintain a healthy population for the people of New York, for the sportsmen.”

Landowners in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara and Wyoming counties who are interested in participating in the study may call the DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife at (716) 372-0645.

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