Wild Turkey Population Trend
Mary Jo Casalena
Game Commission Wild Turkey Biologist
Eastern wild turkey populations across their range have recently been trending downward and Pennsylvania's wild turkey population is showing the same trend. There are several reasons for the decline: the natural leveling off of the populations following population restoration from trap and transfer, fluctuations due to annual nest success and poult survival, fall harvests, increasing predator populations, possible unknown factors from new/emerging diseases and changing environmental conditions. Our challenge as wildlife managers is to determine what the new sustainable population level should be given current and future socio-environmental conditions.
Our management strategy is to increase the population closer to the long-term average since restoration was completed in the early 2000s, approx. 220,000-230,000. We can most effectively manage turkey populations in two ways:
- Improve turkey habitat for nesting and poult rearing. The more than 1.5 million acres of State Game Lands are managed specifically for wildlife. However, private landowners can help by maintaining high quality nesting and brood-rearing habitat.
- Our second, and more direct method, of managing turkey populations is through fall turkey hunting season length. Results of our hen turkey study demonstrated that fall hen harvest rates can be increased or decreased through 1-week adjustments to our fall season length. On average 60 percent of the fall harvest are hens, so minor adjustments to the fall season length can increase/decrease female survival.