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JEFF KNAPP: Next couple weeks crucial for turkey nesting

by on May 27, 2014 10:30 AM

The next couple weeks could say a lot about how this year’s wild turkey nesting season is, which ultimately will tell a tale of how many birds hunters see this coming fall.

According to Pennsylvania Game Commission wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, despite a long, tough, winter, mortality rates appeared to be very low.

“We have transmitter-equipped hens,” she said. “We did not lose any radio-equipped hens to starvation or natural mortality over the winter. Our predation rates are very low during the winter on our hens because of their flocking behavior. So that winter flock is important to their winter survival. But what I did notice is that the hens were remaining on roost. We were trying to trap turkeys last winter. They were not coming to that known available feed on the ground. They were staying in the trees. They were not expending the energy to fly down to feed, or to try to make it through that deep snow. We would also observe them just loafing under the thermal cover of pine stands and spruce stands, instead of coming out into the open exposing themselves to the elements to feed.”

But while we might not have experienced any significant loss over the winter, the season might still make its presence known in terms of this spring’s reproduction success.

“What that tells me is they used up a lot of energy this winter,” Casalena noted. “They didn’t die. But, they came into the spring breeding season with very low weight. A turkey will not lay an egg is she doesn’t have a high enough body weight. Her body just can’t produce an egg if she doesn’t have any fat. So I don’t know how productive this spring’s nesting season will be.”

She said if factors fall into place, the hens will still be able to pull off a good year, ones such as the birds’ ability to quickly regain strength and weight, as well as favorable weather that will increase poult survival.

“It all depends on how much the hens were able to consume, calorie-wise, between the winter flock breakup and laying,” she explained. “We didn’t see any early incubation, like we normally do. That’s telling me that they were still playing catch-up. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in regard to clutch sizes. I’m assuming clutch sizes will be smaller. Also that juvenile hens — first-year hens — won’t nest, will nest late, or will have very low clutch sizes. I’m predicting that this will not be a banner year for productivity. The last week of May, first week of June, is when we typically have the peak of our hatch — probably a little bit later this spring, later into June. If we have warm, dry weather during that peak of hatch, that will help a lot. If we have cold, wet weather, that will really decrease out poult survival.”

Let’s hope that the next few weeks bring warm, dry weather, something that’s been lacking during the first part of spring.

HEROES ON THE WATER: Heroes on the Water, a non-profit organization that introduces veterans to kayak fishing, will hold an event Saturday at Moraine State Park’s Lake Arthur. The outing will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., out of the McDaniels launch area. Boats, gear, lunch and instruction will all be provided, though you are welcome to bring your own tackle, if you prefer. Participants and family members can fish without a license during the event.

To register, visit Heroes on the Water — Western PA’s Facebook page, or email westernpa@heroesonthe water.org.



Jeff Knapp is an outdoors writer for The Indiana Gazette. His columns appear Tuesday on the Outdoors page and in the Indiana County Area Sports section on The Indiana Gazette Online.
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