Across the state, and in Clay County, the value of wildlife in traditional livestock-based enterprises is being realized. Integrating wildlife management into farm and ranch operations is now common place. Interest in habitat and population management for wild turkeys has grown recently, as landowners and hunters recognize their actions have direct impacts on natural resources and wildlife populations.
Management of species requires accurate population estimates, and a survey is an important factor in determining the population size of a species, habitat requirements, reasons for species decline, whether habitat management has improved site conditions, or to understand other aspects of population dynamics.
Because turkeys are highly mobile, wide ranging and secretive, obtaining accurate and reliable estimates of abundance can be difficult. At the ranch level, there are a few methods that can give satisfactory estimates upon which management decisions can be made.
Estimates of roost-sites by landowners can be used to determine population and determine Rio Grande Wild Turkeys (RGWTs) trends where there is little movement among roost sites. Using a survey period of less than a week can minimize the problem of double counting where turkey movements are considerable.
Research in 2009 evaluated independent, double observer roost counts for RGWTs. Results indicated that roost counts can be an inexpensive and accurate method for estimating RGWTs using two independent observers at each roost site. It should be noted, however, that turkeys do not always return to the same roost each night. Roost counts should be conducted in February. Counts can be conducted in the mornings and evenings, though morning counts may be better.
Helicopters have been used to survey turkey populations with some success. In the Panhandle, flock detectability from a helicopter was close to 100 percent when compared to ground counts. However, surveying 242,000-484,000 acres would be necessary to provide sufficient power to detect a 10-25 percent change in abundance over a 4-5 year period. Ranches in this area are considerably smaller. Also, this method can be costly, ranging from about $500 per hour.
Trail cameras at bait stations have been used to estimate abundance, but without accurate verification in a well-designed, scientific study. This method should be used with caution. To conduct a trail camera survey, first locate roost sites throughout the property. Surveys are best conducted during the winter months, anywhere from December to February. Conduct surveys over a short period of time such as a week.
Estimating abundance of wildlife including RGWT’s is difficult and each of the above methods is not without inherent biases. However, these methods do offer landowners and managers the opportunity to generate reasonable estimates of RGWTs on their property for better management of the species. Based on recent research by AgriLife Extension, traditional roost counts are the most efficient, cost-effective method for estimating the number of RGWTs. Counts conducted annually provide a good indication of population trends and flock composition.
Turkeys are so popular in Clay County there is even a county event named after them. Clay County Turkey Fest is coming up from April 18-22. This year, in addition to the Battle of the Beards and the World Championship, there will also be a Turkey Festival held on the courthouse square on Saturday, April 21. There will be tons of family fun and plenty of activities for kids. There will be live demonstrations by Nellie Quiet Dove, the 15th Texas Calvary and pioneer re-enactors. Kids can hop on the Happy Hopper, ride the Painted Pony and participate in arts and crafts. Celebrity hunt teams will make appearances, take pictures and sign autographs. Vendors will be selling food and crafts and promoting events and non-profit endeavors. Entertainment will also be provided by live bands.
Another new event this year will be a Turkey Fest Scholarship Barrel Race for high school seniors. Clay County seniors will team up in groups of 3 to build a contraption that will be pushed, pulled, pedaled or carried through a barrel race during the Festival. Entries will be judged on their creativity exemplifying the theme of a “Turkey” and their time to complete the barrel race. The grand prize is a $500 scholarship per person. That is $1,500 per entry! Teams must consist of both genders, whether that means a team of one boy and two girls or two boys and one girl. Participants must be graduating seniors enrolled in a Clay County school. The race will take place at 11:30 on the courthouse square on Saturday, the 21st. Entries must be submitted to Betty at the Chamber by Wednesday, April 18.