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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Banded wild turkey project to supplement annual brood survey, hunter harvest data

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) started a wild turkey banding study this past winter to supplement the annual brood survey and hunter harvest data used to monitor flocks.

The 4-year study, conducted in partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and Tennessee Tech University (TTU), will enable biologists to better estimate the proportion of male turkeys in a population that gets harvested by hunters in Kentucky and Tennessee. The two adjoining states have turkey flocks of about the same size, but Tennessee has a more liberal bag limit during the spring season.

A green turkey band (Photo courtesy KDFWR)

The information obtained from this project will help managing agencies make more informed decisions on hunting regulations since hunting pressure is one of the two main factors that influence the size of turkey populations. The other factor is reproductive success, which is addressed by Kentucky’s statewide Annual Brood Survey.

“After a few years we will have valuable information that we’ve not had before,” said Zak Danks, KDFWR turkey biologist. “It’s research designed to make sure that our hunting regulations are where they should be for the sustainability of turkey populations.”

KDFWR staff live-trapped and banded 231 turkeys on both public and private property in 28 counties across the state during February and early March, releasing the birds at their capture sites.

Only birds that can be taken during the spring hunting season were banded — adult gobblers, jakes (juvenile gobblers) and bearded hens.

According to harvest results posted on the KDFWR website, 18,780 bearded turkeys have been reported taken, as of April 25. The harvest included 15,289 adult gobblers, 3,350 juvenile birds (jakes), and 140 bearded hens, which represents just 0.7 percent of the harvest for the spring season.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Kentucky’s 23-day spring wild turkey season continues through Sunday, May 8.

Danks said at this point in the season about 20 banded birds have been reported taken.

Capturing wild turkeys for banding

Once a banding site is chosen, the area is baited with grain to attract turkeys.

About 40 to 50 feet of net is attached to heavyweights that are launched by charges from tubes positioned at about a 45-degree angle towards the baited area.

When turkeys come to the bait, biologists concealed in a camouflaged blind, detonate the charges with an electric current, and the net flies over the turkeys, covering them like a blanket.

This makes it possible for biologists and technicians to handle the turkeys, and band the bearded birds. Blood and other biological samples are collected to assess their health and create a baseline of data.

Biologists in states all across the country have been capturing wildlife with rocket nets since the 1950s, most typically to provide data on migratory birds, whose bag limits and season timeframes are set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Rocket nets were also used extensively to capture wild turkeys destined for relocation during the restoration era in the 1970s, across the southeastern states.

Danks said during the first year of the project the goal was to capture, band and release as many turkeys as possible while fine-tuning the best practices for future capture and banding efforts.

An episode of Kentucky Afield TV, the department’s weekly television program, which airs on the Kentucky Educational Television (KET) network, showed biologists capturing and banding turkeys.

Reporting banded birds

The bearded birds captured in the rocket nets were banded with either a silver and green band, which has a unique four-digit number between 1000 and 3999 stamped into it. The different colored bands help biologists compare and estimate harvest rates by percentage, and the survival rate of the birds.

Only 25 percent of the bands are green. These so-called reward bands offer a $75 gift card as an incentive for program cooperation, paid for with funds from the Kentucky chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Danks said it’s equally important that all banded turkeys are reported, regardless of the color of the band.

Persons who report a banded turkey will receive a certificate and details of the county and date the turkey was banded.

Reporting banded turkey here can be done online at survey123.arcgis.com.

Kentucky’s turkey flock is one of the best in the region and this new research project will help biologist in their monitoring of turkey populations, to ensure good hunting for years to come.

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