K-State biologists begin research to explain 15-year decline in Kansas wild turkey population

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The $1.8 million study to examine habitat, nesting, reproduction factors

TOPEKA — Biologists at Kansas State University are responding to a persistent 15-year decline in the state’s wild turkey population by launching a $1.8 million study of bird habitat, nesting, reproduction and survival to refine harvest and land management strategies.

The Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission called off the state’s fall turkey hunting season due to the shrinking population. The decision followed reduction in the fall bag limit from four birds to one bird in 2017 and restriction of the fall hunting season from 123 days to 41 days in 2019.

The conspicuous erosion in availability of wild turkeys in Kansas also prompted state officials to limit out-of-state hunting permits and cut the bag limit on turkeys in the spring hunting season.

K-State researchers plan to begin work in January by capturing hundreds of Eastern and Rio Grande wild turkeys on Kansas public and private land. They will place GPS transmitters and leg bands on birds to gather detailed insight into factors contributing to the population decline.

The research will be reinforced with investigation of roost tree viability and usage, food availability for breeding hens and juvenile turkeys, pesticide exposure and diseases among wild turkeys in Kansas and nearby states.

“Wild turkeys are economically and ecologically valuable game birds in Kansas, and not understanding what’s driving recent population declines is hindering management actions to reverse these declines,” said David Haukos, a KSU associate professor of biology. “Our goal is to determine potential factors contributing to population declines and provide focused options for management of wild turkeys in Kansas.”

Funding of the effort to answer questions about the 60% decline in turkey population since 2008 came from the state Department of Wildlife and Parks in partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation, a nonprofit group dedicated to hunters’ rights and habitat preservation.

Kent Fricke, small game biologist at the Department of Wildlife and Parks, said Midwest and Southeast states experienced comparable patterns in production of wild turkeys.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to improve our understanding of wild turkeys in Kansas,” he said. “KDWP staff are committed to learning and to informing our habitat and harvest management decisions.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Wildlife and Parks said it would initiate a lottery drawing for non-resident spring turkey hunting in Kansas. Applications must be submitted Jan. 9 to Feb. 9. The lottery was approved as part of the agency’s strategy to reduce hunting pressure on turkeys.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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