Game Commission Offers Update On Wild Turkey Banding Study

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HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Game Commission and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), along with wildlife officials in Ohio and New York, are continuing a joint four-year study to estimate the spring gobbler harvest rates in each of the three states.

“In Pennsylvania, as spring gobbler hunters prepare to head into the woods tomorrow, we are pleased to report that we have successfully banded 332 gobblers, which is 10 percent more than our banding goal,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist.  “We are indebted to the NWTF for covering the cost of Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State to coordinate this tri-state effort and analyze the data.

“Mild winter weather made turkey trapping conditions difficult in Ohio, and the state consequently banded only 222 of the 300 it sought. The tri-state annual goal of 900-banded males was exceeded because Pennsylvania banded 332 and New York banded 350.  In Pennsylvania, we banded 149 adult gobblers and 183 juveniles (jakes).  New York banded 150 adults, 200 jakes and Ohio banded 79 adults, 143 jakes.” 

To date, Casalena noted the three states have banded 2,613 male turkeys: 668 in Ohio, 914 in Pennsylvania and 1,031 in New York.  She added that the study will allow comparisons of harvest and survival rates among the three states, with their varying harvests, hunter numbers and hunter densities.

“Age-specific harvest rate information will enable wild turkey managers to predict the effect of spring turkey seasons on the age-structure of the male turkey population,” Casalena said.  “Recent research has found that harvest rates vary among age classes of wild turkeys and can greatly influence the number of adult gobblers in the spring harvest.”

The leg-bands being used for the harvest rate study are rivet bands – an aluminum band that is secured using a stainless steel rivet. Past research has typically used standard aluminum bands that are simply squeezed closed, but these sometimes fall off.  Therefore, a sub-study on band retention rates also is being conducted.  National Band & Tag Company has donated a selection of standard leg bands to evaluate how well each of four different types stay on wild turkeys. The retention rates of standard butt-end aluminum, anodized aluminum, enameled aluminum and stainless steel bands will be evaluated.

Casalena noted that hens caught during the trapping efforts are part of the study.  However, she noted that the Game Commission is taking the opportunity to gather breast feathers from both male and female turkeys for the Northeast Wildlife DNA Laboratory at East Stroudsburg University. The feathers are being used to help build a forensic DNA database and will be placed in a long-term DNA archive for future studies.

During the spring 2007 turkey season, 340 gobblers were reported harvested in the three states; 128 in Pennsylvania, 84 of which were banded in 2007, and 44 of which were banded in 2006.

Each year, Game Commission wild turkey banding teams trap in new locations to spread the sample across the state’s 22 Wildlife Management Units.

“Although we’ve only completed our third year of a four-year study – and the data haven’t been analyzed in detail yet – preliminary results indicate that the retention rate of all four types of butt-end bands may be unsatisfactory,” Casalena said.  “Of the turkeys recovered that were banded with both the rivet and butt-end bands (one band per leg), less than 50 percent still had the butt-end bands; that is, we lost more than 50 percent of the butt-end bands.  As additional birds are banded and harvested, we will be able to estimate band retention over time.  No rivet bands have been lost to date.”

Game Commission personnel plan to capture, band and release where caught at least 300 birds for each year of the four-year study.  The agency’s annual goal is to capture, band and release 50 wild turkeys in each of the state’s six geographic regions. The Pennsylvania Chapter of the NWTF is contributing funds to cover the cost of equipment and bait.

Each aluminum leg band is secured to a male turkey’s leg, and each band has a unique letter-number combination. All bands are imprinted with a toll-free telephone number with which to report a harvest or recovery of a band.

“Perhaps the most exciting news for spring turkey hunters is that half of the birds being banded also have information on the band indicating that a reward of $100 will be paid for reporting the band,” Casalena noted.  “Though the chance of harvesting a bird wearing a $100 band is low, the information being gathered is nonetheless significant.  We also appreciate NWTF’s willingness to cover the cost of the rewards.  So far, $11,300 has been paid to Pennsylvania turkey hunters for reporting.”

Dr. Duane Diefenbach, who is heading up the study at the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, said that the study will enable the team to estimate reporting rates by comparing the number of $100 reward bands reported to the number of non-reward bands reported. Reporting rate estimates help biologists determine harvests and may enable them to compare results from previous studies not using rewards.

“For many game species we have estimates of how many animals are harvested, but what we typically lack is knowing the harvest rate – the percentage of the population taken by hunters – because we lack population estimates,” Diefenbach said.  “This study, for the first time, is providing an estimate of harvest rates for gobblers in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.

“In addition to estimating harvest rates of male turkeys during the spring season, the research also will enable the Game Commission to estimate annual survival rates of male turkeys and provide a better estimate of the statewide population.”

Casalena also points out that the multi-state approach provides a larger sample and, ultimately, a better understanding of the variability in harvest rates.
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Content Last Modified on 4/25/2008 11:46:42 AM