Volunteers sought to report sightings of wild turkeys

DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife is looking for wildlife watchers and outdoor enthusiasts to assist with its sixth annual wild turkey reproduction survey, helping to identify locations where the big birds are successfully reproducing in Delaware.

The data helps biologists track the health, distribution and reproductive success of the state’s wild turkey population, with the goal of ensuring a sustainable harvest of the game species.

“Today, Delaware has a thriving wild turkey population that allows for an annual turkey hunting season, but this was not always the case. The reintroduction of the wild turkey to Delaware 30 years ago, nearly 200 years after it became locally extinct, remains one of the state’s greatest wildlife restoration success stories,” said Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis.

Beginning in early 1984, with support from the National Wild Turkey Federation and Delaware Wild Lands, Division of Fish & Wildlife biologists released 34 wild-trapped turkeys from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont into Sussex and Kent counties. Reintroductions continued through the 1990s, and once the population had established a foothold in Delaware, a hunting season was opened in 1991. Today, Delaware has a healthy statewide population estimated at 6,000 birds.

As part of its effort to help ensure the continued success of wild turkeys in Delaware, the Division of Fish & Wildlife needs information on the birds’ annual reproductive success. One simple and cost-effective method, officials said, is for volunteers during their day-to-day activities to record and report sightings of turkeys.

The 2015 survey period continues through Monday, Aug. 31. Upon sighting turkeys, participants are asked to record the date, location and number of adult hens (females), gobblers (males) and poults (young of the year) they observe. Participants are asked to submit their results by Thursday, Sept. 10.

In 2014, survey participants submitted more than 261 observations that provided insight on turkey production during last year’s nesting season. Statewide, reports indicated that reproductive success was better than in the last couple seasons but was still considered “poor to fair” based on the ratio of poults to hens observed.

Wet spring and other conditions likely caused some first nesting attempts to fail or resulted in poult mortality during the first weeks after hatching, officials noted.

Young turkeys’ feathers develop rapidly and birds can fly at two weeks of age, which greatly improves their odds of survival. A summary of last year’s survey results, as well as a data sheet and set of instructions, is available online for volunteers to download.

“Every year we get new and returning volunteers to submit their data and observations, and every year the quality and quantity of the data continues to improve,” said Wildlife Biologist Matthew DiBona. “The more people who participate and the more observations they submit from all corners of the state adds to the science available to help manage this public trust resource.”

For more information, contact Matthew DiBona, wildlife biologist, at (302) 735-3600.