Turkey study underway

By Dan Armitage, Buckeye Sportsman

The National Wild Turkey Federation Ohio State Chapter recently allocated $50,000 to support a new wild turkey research study that seeks to address population declines in the Buckeye State. With increasing concerns over population declines in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio State University are conducting the first broad-scale study of hen survival in the state in almost two decades. Findings will help researchers and wildlife managers understand how survival rates, harvest rates and reproduction have changed in the last 17 years and what factors may be causing those changes.

In the early 2000s, researchers determined May 1 to be the median date for which hens begin incubating; however, it’s clear today that incubation start dates vary in different regions of the state. Changing weather and habitat conditions, too, may be impacting the initiation of nest incubation from the median date established in the early 2000s.

“There are growing concerns about the potential impacts regarding the timing of the removal of males during the hunting season, and therefore it is important to know as precisely as possible when hens begin incubating nests,” said Ryan Boyer, NWTF district biologist for Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, in a news release. “In many cases, state agencies set their season open dates to coincide closely with the median date for nest incubation initiation, allowing time for hens to be bred and for nesting to begin. Ensuring that season start dates align with nesting chronology greatly reduces the chance of negatively impacting populations by removing males too early.” 

Mark Wiley, ODNR game bird biologist, notes that it is not just timing that can have an effect on nesting success, but also changes in habitat.

“Afforestation (establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no previous tree cover) and forest maturation affect habitat quality, which in turn can affect nesting productivity and hen survival,” he said. “A more thorough understanding of hen demographics in relation to changing habitat conditions will improve our ability to successfully manage a dynamic wild turkey population.”

Beginning in early January and through March, ODNR staff will capture birds using rocket nets. Once captured, researchers and ODNR staff will attach leg bands as well as GPS transmitters. 

“Researchers from OSU will download and monitor turkey location and activity data two to three times per week,” Wiley said. “They will use turkey location and activity data to detect nesting activity, movements and mortality events.”

The researchers will confirm nesting activity by locating the birds on the ground, and after the incubation period, the team will be able to determine nest fate, hatching rates and causes of nest failure, if it fails.

Three weeks after a successful hatch, the research team will locate and count the number of poults with each hen and establish an annual survival rate of hens from transmitter data. That data will allow researchers to determine the sources of mortality and investigate the seasonal movements of hens.

Results of the study will be shared with nearby states that are conducting similar wild turkey research projects, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and data will be aggregated to provide a larger representation of how climate and habitat changes impact nesting on a landscape scale. The final project report, thesis and scientific manuscript will be available at the end of the project in 2025, which I hope to share here.

Hunting, trapping proposals offered

Speaking of hunting regulations, Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) proposals made public last month ask for no significant changes in dates, season lengths or bag limits for the 2023-24 hunting and trapping seasons. The eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council will vote on those proposals in mid-April. Deer regulations will be addressed separately. 

The proposals include a Sept. 1 start to the squirrel, rail, gallinule and Wilson’s snipe and the first half of a split mourning dove season. Sept. 2 would mark the opening of an early Canada goose season that would run through Sept. 10 and an early teal season to run through Sept. 17.

Youth hunts would include a special waterfowl season on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, small-game weekends Oct. 21-22 and Oct. 28-29, and spring turkey weekend on April 13th and 14th in 2024.

Woodcock season would open Oct. 13 and grouse season Oct. 14; the fall wild turkey hunt would begin Oct. 14 in selected counties as well.

Goose and duck seasons in the South Zone would start on Oct. 21. A special two-day statewide waterfowl hunt for veterans and active military would be held the weekend of Sept. 30.

The hunting seasons for cottontail rabbit, ring-necked pheasant and bobwhite quail would open Nov. 3. Hunting and trapping seasons would start Nov. 10 for fox, raccoon, skunk, opossum and weasel. Trapping would open on Nov. 10 for mink and muskrat. Trapping would begin on Dec. 26 for beaver and river otter.

For details on the proposals, including closing dates and daily limits, visit wildohio.gov. Comments from the public will be accepted through March 8 at wildlife.lawproposals@dnr.ohio.gov for a statewide public hearing later in March. The council traditionally votes on the proposals during its April meeting.

ODNR stocks 52 million fish

The majority of Ohio’s gamefish populations are sustained through natural reproduction, but stocking expands and diversifies fishing opportunities in waters where existing habitats do not support some fish populations. The ODOW operates six state fish hatcheries that raise sport fish for stocking in Ohio waters, enhancing recreational opportunities for anglers. Ohio’s hatcheries raise saugeye, walleye, yellow perch, rainbow trout, steelhead trout, brown trout, muskellunge, hybrid-striped bass, blue catfish, channel catfish, and bluegill.

The 52 million fish stocked in Ohio last year were of five life stages: 38.2 million fry, 13.1 million fingerlings, 293,513 advanced fingerlings, 140,852 catchable fish, and 522,842 yearling fish. They included the following gamefish species:

• Fry (less than 1 inch long): saugeye (19 million), walleye (12.5 million), yellow perch (4.2 million), and hybrid-striped bass (2.5 million).

• Fingerling (1 to 2 inches long): saugeye (5.6 million), walleye (5.2 million), yellow perch (1.7 million), brown trout (17,719), and hybrid-striped bass (505,961).

• Advanced fingerling (6 to 10 inches long): blue catfish (210,414), channel catfish (59,198), muskellunge (20,505), and yellow perch (3,396).

• Catchable fish (8 inches or longer): channel catfish (10,514), bluegill (26,094), and rainbow trout (104,244).

• Yearling fish (8 to 12 inches long): brown trout (21,200), channel catfish (30,730), and steelhead trout (470,912).

The Division of Wildlife’s current and historical fish stocking records can be viewed via the DataOhio portal in the Fish Stocking Database at wildohio.com, where anglers can explore a map of stocking locations and use stocking data to plan their next outing.  

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  4. One significant aspect of the study is investigating the timing of hen incubation initiation, which varies across different regions of the state. While the median date for incubation initiation was determined to be May 1 in the early 2000s, changing weather patterns and habitat conditions may be influencing this timing today.

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