Overwinter survival of wild turkeys on central Virginia's industrial forests

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Virginia Tech


Overwinter survival of wild turkeys on industrial forests managed for short-rotation pines (treatment) and typical Piedmont forests and farmland (control), was investigated in Virginia's central Piedmont during 1986-1988. Ninety-six percent of the turkeys (N =106) were captured in early fall with alpha-chloralose laced bait. Sixty-three percent of the captured turkeys recovered and were released with transmitters; 15% were released without transmitters; and 21% died from capture related causes.

Overwinter survival for all turkeys was <2% regardless of area or year. Daily survival was lower on the control areas (P < 0.01), however, due to the small (13) and scattered sample of turkeys captured over the 3 years on control areas, these data were omitted from further analyses. Daily survival on treatment areas over the 3 years was 97.6%. Thirty-seven percent of radio-equipped turkeys on treatment areas died within 2 weeks of release suggesting that factors related to the trapping process influenced survival. Possibilities considered were residual effects from alpha-chloralose, capture myopathy, and/or a negative effect from the transmitter and/or harness. Four weeks after release daily survival rates improved significantly (P < 0.01) indicating the influence from trapping had subsided.

While hardwoods composed 38% of the primary treatment area, 65% of turkeys died in hardwood stands; predation accounted for 81% of the turkey mortality (N =42). Field evidence and necropsy results plus scent station data indicated that gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) were the main turkey predators. Fox scats contained no detectable turkey remains but indicated that eastern cottontails (Silvilagus floridanus) were a primary prey species.