Just like blackberries, turkey populations can be hurt by bad weather at the wrong time of year. A cold, wet spring affects nesting success and poult survival and can cause short-term population swings. Each summer, Pennsylvanians can help track wild turkey populations by reporting their turkey sightings to the Game Commission.
I took a walk recently at a Beaver County state game land. Aside from stretching my legs, I wanted to check out one of my best-producing blackberry patches. The wet, early spring produced abundant blossoms on the canes and things were looking good. Then, we hit a dry spell at the wrong time.
Blackberries need a lot of water at the right time of their development to fill out into plump fruit. A couple of weeks of dry weather and small, bitter berries are what you will be picking.
The trail I was walking on was about 20-foot-wide and maintained by mowing so the grass and weeds were not very high. Normally when I top a blind rise where I cannot see ahead, I do so slowly, making sure to see what critters might be there before they see me. This time however, with my attention on the blackberries and moving along quite quickly, I found myself just feet away from too many turkey poults to count. For about 10 seconds all heck broke loose as the young turkeys tried to figure out the best direction to get away. The four adult hens where quick to sound the alarm and disappear into the brush but some of the poults kept running back and forth on the trail totally confused.
As the hens called out their assembly call, the poults figured it out and disappeared into the brush on the sides of the trail. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, "the adult hen assembly call is a series of loud yelps, usually a little more emphatic and longer than a standard series of yelps. The assembly yelp is used by a hen to assemble her flock or young poults."
Thanks to state wildlife agencies and concerned sportsmen groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, scenes like this are common across the country. But just like blackberries, turkey populations can be hurt by bad weather at the wrong time of year. A cold, wet spring affects nesting success and poult survival and can cause short-term population swings.
Each summer, Pennsylvanians can help track wild turkey populations by reporting their turkey sightings to the Game Commission. This year, the survey will be held over two months instead of one to make observations and report them.
The Pennsylvania Wild Turkey Sighting Survey opened Wednesday and will run through August. The two-month window follows the current national standard used by all state wildlife agencies, providing comparable data across the wild turkey’s entire range.
Turkey sighting reports can be made through the Game Commission’s mobile app or on the agency’s website.
On the website, click on "Turkey Sighting Survey" in the Quick Clicks section. The mobile app can be found by searching for "Pennsylvania Game Commission" in the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store and selecting "Turkey Sighting Survey."
The public is encouraged to report any turkeys observed during July and August. Information submitted helps the agency analyze turkey reproduction. Participants are requested to record the number of wild turkeys they see, along with the general location, date, and contact information if agency biologists have any questions. Viewers can also access results from previous years.
Many factors including spring weather, habitat, previous winter-food abundance, predation and last fall’s harvest affect wild turkey productivity. The statewide 2019 spring-turkey population was approximately 212,200, which was slightly below the three-year running average of 216,900. With last summer’s sighting survey showing average reproductive success (2.4 poults per hen), the statewide turkey population was stable coming into this year’s breeding season.
Hopefully when I head out to pick berries, I see this flock again and will be able to submit the numbers to the survey.
Mike Barcaskey is a sportsman from Beaver County, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.