PA Game Commission outdoes the Butterball hotline; looks for public’s help tracking toms

12 January 2024- The Game Commission is asking for the public’s help finding turkey flocks to trap for ongoing turkey projects.

Beginning next week, Pennsylvanians are encouraged to report the location of any turkey flocks they see. Information is being collected online at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/TurkeyBroodSurvey from Jan. 15 through March 15.

Visitors to that webpage will be asked to provide the date of the sighting, the location, and the type of land (public, private or unknown) where birds are seen, among other things.

Game Commission crews will visit sites to assess them for the potential to trap turkeys. Turkeys will not be moved; they’ll simply be leg banded and released on site. In four Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) some also will be outfitted with GPS transmitters, then be released back on site, to be monitored over time.

Trapping turkeys during winter is part of the Game Commission’s ongoing population monitoring, and provides information for a large-scale turkey study, as well.

Just like the last four winters, the Game Commission will put leg bands on male turkeys statewide. Hunters who harvest one of those turkeys, or people who find one dead, are asked to report the band number by either calling toll-free or reporting it online.

“The data give us information on annual survival rates and annual spring harvest rates for our population model and provides the person reporting information on when and approximately where the turkey was banded,” said Mary Jo Casalena, the Game Commission’s turkey biologist.

The Game Commission is also attaching GPS transmitters to a sample of turkeys in WMUs 2D, 3D, 4D and 5C; on approximately 150 hens and 100 males total. The four study areas have different landscapes, turkey population densities, and spring hunter and harvest densities.

“We’re studying turkey population and movement dynamics, disease prevalence, and other aspects that may limit populations” Casalena said.

These studies are being done in partnership with Penn State University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Futures Program.

The population and movement portion of that work is looking at how landscape and weather impact hen nest rates, nest success, poult survival, predation, habitat use and movement. The disease portion of the study is examining how disease prevalence varies based on landscape and impacts things like the survival and nesting rates of hens of different ages. This is accomplished by collecting blood, throat swabs, feces, etc. from turkeys that receive backpack-style transmitters at the time of capture.

The study will continue next winter for females, so that, in the end, the Game Commission will monitor 400-plus hens and 200-plus male turkeys.

Researchers from Penn State University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Futures Program will interpret the data collected. Maryland, New Jersey and Ohio joined the study as well.

“It is the largest turkey project we’ve ever conducted, with the hope of answering many questions regarding current turkey population dynamics,” Casalena said.

Finding birds to trap is key to accomplishing the work. That’s where the public comes in. Fortunately, Pennsylvanians have a history of helping in this way.

Casalena said participation in the Winter Wild Turkey Sighting Survey has been extremely useful for locating trappable flocks over the past two winters.

“The public was so helpful the last two years and some even helped with monitoring sites and trapping,” Casalena said. “We look forward to continuing this winter.”