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It was a turkey of a spring - and it's gobbled up the number of birds

If you think you hated the cold, wet spring, think about mama turkey who has to keep her chicks warm and dodge the growing number of predators out there looking for a quick meal.

Credit New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Five years ago, hunters began complaining to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that there were fewer turkeys. That prompted state wildlife biologists to attach radio trackers to birds to find out whether hunter claims were true.

Turns out, they were right. The DEC found there are fewer turkeys than there used to be.

Some of this is blamed on the cold, wet weather this spring and a series of similar bad springs. There is also the issue of predators, with the expansion of coyotes and bears across the region - and there is less turkey habitat, as farms are replaced with homes.

Emilio Rende, regional upland game bird biologist, said wild turkeys don't like the wet springs any more than we do.

"We have not had a real good dry spring in quite some time, so this cool, rainy, wet weather affects the turkey populations," Rende said. "It affects the survivability of the adult hen and it also affects the productivity. So when hens are nesting and the pullets hatch, they can become susceptible to hypothermia if it's a cool, wet spring. So, essentially, we look at the May and June weather to see how cool it is and how much rain we get in the area."

Rende said the weather has an additional affect on chicks.

"During the cold, wet springs that we do have, it not only affects the chicks as far as their productivity as far as the health of the chick, as far as succumbing to hypothermia, but it also causes the conditions for the predators to be pretty good," he said, "so they're able to find and locate the hens that are sitting on they nest and they prey on those turkeys."

One thing the state Department of Environmental Conservation is doing to increase the numbers of turkeys out there is shrinking the fall hunting season and trying to figure out how to increase the array of young tree forests turkeys of all ages need, especially when the kids are young. However, the weather problem is something even  Albany can't do anything about.

Credit New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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