Turkey behavior changing as they adapt to threats

Turkey season ends on Saturday.

However, the end of turkey season and the season in general, may also be a preview to the beginning of the end of what used to be a vibrant hunting experience. From local talk to field observation to community discussion, hunters across the area have experienced a decrease in turkey activity this spring. While it is too early to know the end of year harvest reports, as those are not released until well after the season, a wildlife enforcement officer offered recently that bird harvest is in fact down, based on statistics department personnel receive.

Whatever the harvests reports show, hunters who I communicate with regularly, have noticed a distinct change in the behavior and interaction of turkeys. Perhaps it is just nature. That being that nature adapts and changes in mysterious ways that we will never appreciate, or even recognize until well after the change. My own experience and observation with turkey hunting, is that there was a distinct growth and then peak in turkey hunting and turkey interaction in the mid-2000s and that for a few years it was phenomenal on an almost predictable basis.

Turkey gobbles and turkey behavior was one of the most special of behaviors in the mornings of spring. One could almost guarantee a lonesome serenade, near and far. One could almost find a turkey in the field late in the day, searching for that grasshopper of all grasshoppers. And, one could see that a flock of turkeys grows each year and that seeing a line of poults in late July was a refreshing sight for the future.

And yet, something changed.

There are the usual guilty culprits — coyotes, egg eating critters, fox, hawks (prey on young poults) and the simple fact that nature instructed the turkey, with a brain the size of a pea, to change and adapt away from hunters.

“They just don’t gobble, like the used to,” said a friend that has taken more birds than I have ever seen.

Personally, I feel there is a direct correlation that cannot be proven scientifically or factually. Instead, it is with intuitive reasoning that the increased population of coyotes has had and continues to have an impact on turkey’s and turkey hunting.

This impact may be that as we do not really know how many hens lay eggs that hatch into vulnerable young turkeys, we also do not know how many of these are gobbled up by coyotes.

It may also be that coyotes are responsible for less actual predatory kills of turkey and more responsible for the direct interruption in breeding, congregating, and flocking characteristics, as turkeys rely on audible communication and this is a giveaway for coyotes and their intelligent hearing.

Last year, a group of four gobblers were in the middle of a field on our farm. We were hunting and had closed the distance. After setting up, we called twice. The gobblers never made a sound. Instead, a coyote ran past us, obviously turned-on to the noise and this sent the gobblers scattering, thus ending our hunt.

Other factors that may affect turkey interaction and engagement this season are that of the unseasonably warm winter and early spring and that on recent mornings it has been warm and muggy and there are way too many snakes in the places I want to go, to actually go.

Yet, I do believe that as an observer to nature and one that communicates with other hunter-observers, that there is a change in how turkeys and turkey hunters and nature and turkeys interact. Perhaps, as usual we as humans will be slow to recognize the reasons for this change. For me, I cannot help but wonder about the turkey being innocent prey to coyotes and how the presence of coyotes has changed the wild turkey.

Enjoy your time outdoors.