Although Missouri still ranks as one of best states in number of wild turkeys, those numbers are down, according to Missouri Conservation Resource Scientist Tom Dailey. “The joke going around here in Resource Science Division is that first I caused the drop in quail (he led our quail research efforts for 20 years) and now that I have responsibilities for turkeys their numbers will drop, too.” Fortunately for Tom, he has a good sense of humor. And unfortunately for him, the spring weather during nesting seasons the past few years, before he became took over the lead on turkey studies, was not good for turkey reproduction.
“One example was when that late freeze hit last Easter in 2007,” he said. “Hen turkeys were likely laying eggs but hadn’t started incubating them yet. So the hard freeze likely killed some potential birds. The low numbers of poults (young birds) seen later went along with that.”
Will that poor reproduction the past few years really show up in the number of birds people see this year? “Well, we’re hearing comments from people who used to see hundreds of birds in their fields to now seeing maybe 50. There simply are fewer birds out there and past weather certainly played a role.”
As a former quail biologist, Tom is very familiar with the impact of cold, wet weather on ground-nesting birds. And anyone who has seen sudden spring flooding, for example, can imagine what that would do to nests or very small young birds.
That Easter freeze added another threat to turkeys, with frozen oak buds and blossoms leading to a low acorn crop. “Last fall our white oak acorns were at their lowest number since 1960,” Tom noted. “Acorns are a very important food for turkeys, so the combination of a rough winter and acorn shortage meant some birds wouldn’t make it through the winter, or they’ll they’ll be in poor shape when nesting season begins this spring.”
So here’s hoping for some milder weather the next few years to give the birds a better chance to survive. Youth turkey season is coming up this weekend (April 12-13) and the regular spring firearms turkey season runs April 21-May 11.