MDC brood survey shows improvement in turkey production compared to five-year average

News from the region
Published Date
10/20/2021
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) annual wild turkey brood survey for 2021, average turkey production statewide was similar to production at the statewide scale in 2020, but better than statewide production from 2016-2019.

MDC’s statewide poult-to-hen ratio (PHR)—an index for turkey production—this year was 1.0, which was the same as the 2020 PHR but 11-percent greater than the average production observed during the previous five years (2016-2020). However, when comparing the statewide PHR to the average turkey production observed over the last 10 and 20-years, production in 2021 was below the long-term average.

Regionally, production was relatively consistent in 2021, with almost every Turkey Productivity Region (TPR) ending up with a PHR within the range of 1.0 to 1.3. The exceptions were the West Prairie Region, where the 0.7 PHR fell below the statewide average, and the Mississippi Lowlands Region, where the 2.4 PHR far exceeded the statewide average.

Compared to last year, production in the Ozark Border and Ozarks West Regions increased by 43-percent and 57-percent, respectively. The Lindley Breaks Region also saw a nine-percent increase in production, but the most significant improvement was in the Mississippi Lowlands Region where the PHR increased 118-percent from 2020.

“Because turkey abundance is relatively low in the Mississippi Lowlands compared to other parts of the state, we usually receive the fewest observations from this region during the brood survey,” says MDC Wild Turkey Biologist Reina Tyl. “Since the production index is calculated from a smaller number of observations, it’s not uncommon to see large annual fluctuations in the Mississippi Lowlands’ poult-to-hen ratio.”

Unfortunately, several regions—Northeast, Northwest, and Union Breaks—saw slight downturns in production this year after experiencing increases in productivity during 2020. The Ozarks East and West Prairie Regions saw similar PHRs this year as in 2020.

How the poult-to-hen ratio is determined

Since 1959, MDC has conducted an annual wild turkey brood survey where MDC staff and citizen volunteers record the number of hens and recently hatched turkeys, which are called poults, they see during June, July, and August. These observations are then tallied to determine the success of the hatch, which is most often reported as a poult-to-hen ratio, or simply the average number of poults per hen observed during the survey. Tyl explained that the poult-to-hen ratio is a good measure of nesting success and poult survival.

“Each year, thousands of citizens participate in the survey, and we are grateful for their contribution,” Tyl said. “This year during the three-month survey, participants reported sightings of more than 75,000 turkeys, which is a testament to the large number of dedicated volunteers that take time to record and submit their observations.”

What drives long-term trends in turkey production

“Since MDC has been collecting information about turkey hatches for over 60 years, we have been able to monitor long-term trends in production,” explained Tyl. “The last few decades of brood survey data indicate that PHRs have been declining, and the statewide PHR has been at or below 1.0 for the last six years.”

Tyl added a lot has changed over the last several decades that could be contributing to the declining trend in productivity.

“There have been broad-scale losses of quality nesting and brood-rearing habitat, changing spring weather patterns, increasing populations of some nest and poult predators, and declining insect abundance—a critical food source for young poults,” she said.

MDC and University of Missouri launch turkey research project

MDC partnered with the University of Missouri to launch a cooperative research project last year to determine how these different factors are affecting wild turkey nest success and poult survival.

“The project also aims to identify the main causes of poult mortality and determine how brood-rearing habitat selection, and the quality of those habitats, affects poult survival,” Tyl noted. “The information gathered from this study will inform management of wild turkeys and turkey habitat in Missouri.”

To participate in the annual wild turkey brood survey, email MDC’s Wild Turkey Management Program at wildturkeymgmt@mdc.mo.gov with “Wild Turkey Brood Survey” as the subject of the email. Include complete name and mailing address.

For a more detailed report outlining the results of the 2021 Missouri Wild Turkey Brood Survey, and to read reports from previous years, visit the Turkey Reports webpage at https://mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/species/turkey/turkey-reports.