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Wild Turkeys: Well adapted survivors

photos by Garry Brandenburg — Wild Turkey observations by outdoors folks have increased lately, partly because the young have grown to almost adult size, and as they follow the hens, large dark feathered birds stand out against leafy backgrounds. In today’s images, a sunlit small group was observed near West Main Street Road. And in my close up view of turkeys, this time adjacent to Highland Acres Road, these birds were busy preening their feathers in attempts to dry out after recent rains. Wild Turkeys locally had a successful hatch this year.

Wild turkey populations in Iowa are doing well. These birds are hardy and adaptable to life close to our cities as well as into many niches of the countryside, especially forested areas along the Iowa River and its major tributaries. From initial transplanting of live trapped turkeys in established areas of Iowa during the 1990s into many other locations, the results are a wildlife success story. Wild turkeys have found just about every available habitat area to occupy, and Marshall County is no exception.

Wild turkey populations are dynamic, with ebb and flow cycles to local populations. They face challenges, of course, as does every wild critter. In spite of all the things that work against wild birds, like predators on the ground or from the air, overall, they persist and thrive. Factors for and against wild birds are studied and evaluated constantly by biologists. There is no easy, one size fits all solution to apply toward habitat management that stands out, but biologists recommend basic tenets for the good of all wildlife. Those strategies are helpful.

If you do go on an autumn hike at Timmons Grove, Arney Bend, the Iowa River Wildlife Area, Forest Reserve, Stanley Mill Mitigation Site, Grammer Grove, or other sites, it is entirely possible to come around a bend in a pathway and see wild turkeys. Wild turkeys can see well and hear well, so surprising a group of turkeys is not likely to happen, But if it does, be ready to enjoy the moment.

The National Wild Turkey Federation is an organization that is always working toward more knowledge and solutions. When the NWTF was founded in 1973, there were an estimated 1.3 million wild turkeys in North America. After decades of work, that number is now close to 7 million. The NWTF stands behind science-based conservation and works toward continued partnerships with many other organizations to continue supportive hunting heritage programs.

Since 2012, the beginning of a program titled Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt, NWTF plans have resulted in conserving or enhancing more than 4 million acres of essential habitat, recruited more than 1.5 million hunters, and helped open access to over 500,000 acres of land for hunting. Support for the NWTF can be obtained by consulting their website, subscribing to and joining the organization, and by making generous contributions of time and labor to conservation projects.

Pheasant sightings are also starting to increase. Any casual drive along the back roads is likely to allow you to spot a ringneck pheasant or two or three. Enjoy the opportunity. Soon enough, when the hunting season opens on Oct. 30, the natural tendency of this popular game bird will be to stay hidden. However, if one is patient enough, the rooster pheasant will get nervous and flush from cover with a flurry of rapid and powerful wing beats to make an escape.

Crop harvests are going well. Corn field cover for pheasants will soon be reduced. Grasslands, always important, will become more so as fall transitions toward cooler and eventually another cold winter. Large blocks of grassland are preferred habitats. Small grasslands like roadsides or filter strips along waterways are okay, however, small areas are too easily penetrated by roaming predators. That is why large tracts of grasslands provide more cover for pheasants.

Roadside survey data indicates the pheasant population is about equal to last year. Harvest numbers can be increased if more hunters dedicate some of their time to make hunting trips for these game birds. Local public wildlife areas with grassland habitats holding pheasants include the Iowa River Wildlife Area, Marietta Sand Prairie, Stanley Mill Mitigation Area and the Klauenberg Prairie.

Deer hunters always strive for more information about this big game animal. For all the press coverage this critter gets, myths sometimes persist and become legends perceived as fact when that is not the case. Well here is a fact that proves a legend wrong. I’ll get right to it. Deer movements increase each fall in response to that brief period of time when female deer are receptive to breeding. It is only a coincidence that in Iowa and the Midwest, whitetail deer rut happens from late October to early November. However, the timing of colder weather settling in is seen as the “cause” of why deer become more active. Wrong! Cause and effect have to be separated if the facts stand any chance of winning the day.

Examples: in south Florida, whitetail deer rut happens much earlier, typically in July and August. The weather is hot. So it cannot be colder weather that triggers buck movement.

It is the doe estrus cycle. For Everglade deer season openers on Jul. 31, whitetails are on the move in a big way. As one moves more northerly, the timing of the rut begins to turn toward October and even further north into November. The rut in west-central Mississippi typically is early December to early January. Timing for the rut of the tiny whitetail in Arizona is also a January thing.

According to Lindsay Thomas Jr., Chief Communication Officer for the National Deer Association, if the rut is moving into its prime time for any area of the country, no matter what month the calendar is, that is the top motivating factor for increasing buck activity and movement, day and/or night.

“No study has found a strong or consistent correlation between deer movement rates and air temperature, barometric pressure, wind, rainfall, or the moon phase,” she said.

And Dr. Duane Diefenbach of Penn State University says “once you get into the rut, there is nothing that bothers a male deer except a female deer.”

Donate deer hides again this fall to Elks Lodges across the USA. Deer hides that are donated are sent to tanneries where the deer skins may become leather gloves for handicapped veterans. Tanned deer skins are also used for occupational therapy kits which will be distributed to veterans home hospitals, all at no cost to the veteran. Marshalltown Elks Lodge members want deer hunters to participate during the 2021-22 season. Last year, the local chapter of the Elks placed third in the United States for the number of deer hides provided to veterans. Collection points typically have been the Kwik-Trip store on South Sixth and East Side Tire. Stay tuned for updates later this fall. Thank you.

Something to think about: What refutes science? Better science. What doesn’t refute science? Your feelings, your religion, your favorite politician, or your half-baked opinion after watching YouTube videos.

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Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005

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