Results are in from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s fourth annual wild turkey winter flock survey, in which the public participates by reporting their turkey flock sightings online. Wild turkey watchers submitted their observations from January 1 through March 31, 2012. During that time, people reported seeing 1,180 wild turkey flocks across the state, representing a total of 20,295 individual turkeys. This was down a bit from last year’s winter flock survey (2011), in which observers recorded 1,497 flocks and 27,521 turkeys.
Fewer sightings does not mean we have fewer turkeys in the state, explains Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Ted Walski. He estimates New Hampshire’s turkey population as holding steady at about 40,000 birds. The most likely reason for why fewer turkey flocks were reported was because the 2011-2012 winter was one of the mildest the state has seen in over 40 years. The lack of snow cover this winter allowed turkeys to move around more easily. In addition, an abundant fall mast crop of acorns, beechnuts, apples, white ash seeds and various other seeds and fruits, encouraged turkeys to stay in the woods and feed on natural foods rather than congregating at birdfeeders and farm sites. This also explains why large flocks of 100 or more were not as common this year. Most flocks observed were in the range of 20 to 30 turkeys.
Southeastern New Hampshire, particularly in Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, produced the most flock reports and the highest total turkey count. Observers in the region reported a total of 923 flocks and 15,611 turkeys. This part of the state included all 23 towns with the most flocks of turkeys reported per town, and the most total turkeys per town.
As expected, people in northern New Hampshire saw fewer turkeys. Observers reported a total of 23 flocks of turkeys from 13 towns in Coos County, for a total of 331 turkeys, and an average of 14.4 turkeys per flock. This was not surprising in an area with a small human population, as well as a low turkey population.
In their reports, observers recorded whether the turkeys were feeding, the type of food the birds were eating, and the type of habitat they were seen in. Of the total flocks observed, about a third (359 flocks) were using birdfeeders, and most of these flocks were in southeastern New Hampshire. Other types of food usage recorded included corn in ensilage or livestock manure, apples or crabapples, acorns or beechnuts, birdseed at birdfeeders, grasses/greens and dried berries. As for habitat, 72% (851 flocks) were spotted in rural areas, 26% in suburban settings, and 2% were seen in urban areas.
“Many thanks to all the people throughout the state who took time to contribute their wild turkey flock observations during the winter of 2012,” said Walski. “All these reports contribute greatly to a more comprehensive knowledge of the yearly status of behavior, habitat use, food usage, abundance and distribution of wild turkeys throughout various regions of the state.”
This year’s winter flock survey included a new section, done in cooperation with the University of New Hampshire, intended to help assess public attitudes about wild turkeys in the state. Preliminary results are encouraging. About 15% of all survey participants completed the optional human dimensions survey. Nearly all respondents (about 98%) indicated they participated in the survey to help agency biologists manage the wild turkey population; they enjoyed observing turkeys; and they felt turkeys contribute to New Hampshire’s quality of life. The optional survey will continue this summer as part of Fish and Game’s online Turkey Brood Survey.
Data from the winter and summer human dimensions surveys will be compiled and analyzed as part of a Masters of Science project to assess public attitudes and interest in monitoring wild turkeys and to provide Fish and Game biologists with information that will enhance their ability to recruit and retain “citizen scientists.”
“The combined use of biological and human dimensions surveys will aid both turkey management and promote public participation in wildlife management overall,” said Allison Keating, a Fish and Game program planner and the UNH graduate student coordinating the research.
To read the full report on the 2012 winter flock survey, visit http://www.wildnh.com/turkeysurvey.
In addition to the winter flock survey, N.H. Fish and Game conducts a spring/summer turkey brood survey in which the public is invited to report sightings of New Hampshire flocks that include hens with young turkeys from May 15 to August 31 each year. Watch http://www.wildnh.com for information on this and other citizen science opportunities.
Turkey management in New Hampshire is supported by license fees and federal funds from the Wildlife Restoration Program.