Nature Lab

By Dianne Van Dien | May 1, 2024
From Missouri Conservationist: May 2024

Wildlife Management

Wild Turkey Brood Surveys

MDC has been conducting turkey brood surveys since 1959. These annual surveys record flock sightings from June through August, noting the number of toms, hens, and poults (young turkeys). The survey is used to create an index for evaluating the quality of each year’s hatch. Missouri not only has one of the longest running brood surveys, but, thanks to thousands of Missouri citizens, one of the highest participation rates in the nation. 

“We’re very lucky to have such good participation from the public,” says MDC Turkey Biologist Nick Oakley. “Last year, folks laid eyes on over 70,000 turkeys, which is pretty remarkable.” 

The large number of sightings reported each year strengthens the reliability of the data, which is converted to a poult-to-hen ratio. In 2023, the statewide ratio was 1.4 poults per hen. 

“This number isn’t saying that every hen out there is having 1.4 poults,” explains Oakley. It’s an average that’s “important because we can compare it to previous years.”

Wild turkey populations naturally fluctuate based on various conditions. The brood surveys, along with harvest data, help biologists assess trends and anticipate the turkey population a few years into the future. 

This year we are expecting a big cicada hatch, which, Oakley says, “should have a really positive impact on our brood numbers.” 

With a poult-to-hen ratio that was 46 percent higher than the previous year, 2023 was a good brood year.

If we have good production again this year, Oakley says, “we would expect to see the overall turkey population respond.”

Learn how to participate in turkey brood surveys at

At a Glance

MDC’s Turkey Brood Surveys from 1959 to 2023

The graph shows an increase in turkey poult production per hen, followed by a slow, steady decline. In 1959, turkey numbers were low. After a period of growth, the population reached carrying capacity (the maximum number of turkeys the land can sustain), and therefore the production rate slowed down.

Learn more at

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation – Marcia Hale