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Upland Update: State Senate Panel, Wildlife Commission Hear Update on Turkey Study



Provided by the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Oklahoma State University  

Wild turkey genetics, nesting success, and brood survival are among the research topics in a 4.5-year, $2 million study launched in 2022 by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and partnering with National Wild Turkey Federation, Turkeys For Tomorrow, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, and private landowners to address wild turkey population dynamics. Following is a summary of recent study activities.

Project principal investigator Colter Chitwood presented updates to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission and to the Tourism and Wildlife Committee of the Oklahoma Senate in October.

In his presentation to the Commission, Chitwood, an assistant professor in the Oklahoma State University Department of Natural Resources Ecology and Management, shared some of the data collected after research over two nesting seasons in southeastern Oklahoma and over one nesting season in southwestern Oklahoma.

Preliminary data (from southwest/southeast study areas) at nest sites studied suggest hen mortality due to predators was 60/80 percent; nest success was 9/22 percent; predator-related nest loss was 13/77 percent; and poult survival was 14/0 percent.  

The genetics part of the research has collected about 300 tissue samples from 62 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, along with several provided from Texas and New Mexico to serve as reference samples.

 At the project’s outset, researchers said leading hypotheses to explain wild turkey declines were predation, weather, land use changes, and loss of genetic diversity.

The project’s objectives are:

  • To provide ODWC with data to better manage wild turkey populations.
  • To provide recommendations to private landowners, land managers, and hunters regarding wild turkey management.
  • To aid in understanding regional declines in wild turkey populations. 

GENETICS STUDY: Researchers continue to analyze genetics data.

SOUTHWESTERN OKLAHOMA POPULATION STUDY AREA: Southwestern team lead Cody Griffin presented information about the study at the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Annual Cooperators Meeting.

SOUTHEASTERN OKLAHOMA POPULATION STUDY AREA: Southeastern team lead Cyrena Bedoian secured the required zoosanitary form to ship swabs collected at mortality sites to Wildlife Genetics International (WGI) in Canada. The swabs will hopefully provide additional data on the species of predators at hen and nest mortality events. She continued to refine objectives and the camera deployment plan for the upcoming field season.

Team members made a site visit to check on radio-tagged hens and download data, and they relocated four of the birds that were missing during the previous visit.

Project teams in both areas continued preparations for winter captures. Technician candidates were interviewed, and one was hired. Interviews and hiring continued into November. Team members in both areas continued field visits to try to relocate radio-tagged birds from the previous capture season.

(Financial support for this publication was provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation through the Wildlife Restoration Program, F21AF02702 [W-216-R-1] and Oklahoma State University.)