COVID-19 Expected to Have an Impact on Eastern Wild Turkeys

COVID-19 has had a profound effect on people for the past three months in terms of loss of life and economic costs. But it also may be playing a role in the potential decline of the Eastern wild turkey population

Bret Collier, an associate professor in the LSU AgCenter School of Renewable Natural Resources, is one of the nation’s leading researchers regarding wild turkeys. He and Michael Chamberlain, a professor at the University of Georgia, are examining preliminary data on harvesting wild turkeys across the southeastern United States during the pandemic and are concerned that an increasing number of hunters and their efforts are leading to a much higher number of mature birds being harvested than in a typical year.

“Right now, we are seeing an increase in harvest on public lands and an increase in hunter days afield,” Collier said. “Wild turkey harvest in Louisiana was 15% higher by the third week of the 2020 season relative to the 2019 season.”

An Eastern wild turkey nest with hatched eggs. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, more hunters are taking to the woods in the southeastern United States and are harvesting more turkeys. This could cause a drop in the population number of turkeys in the region. According to Collier, turkey harvest is a function of hunter effort — more hunters in the woods means more harvested birds.Even if hunters do not harvest a gobbler, the increasing number of hunters can interfere with the breeding process.

“Wild turkeys are the only gamebird in the contiguous United States hunted specifically before and during the breeding season and when females are incubating nests,” Collier said. “More hunters mean an increased likelihood of disturbing a hen on the nest. Research shows hens disturbed early in the incubation process are more likely to abandon the nest.”

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