Nest-site Selection and Survival of Wild Turkeys in Tennessee

Spring harvest of wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) has declined in many eastern states since 2010. In Tennessee, spring harvest de-clines of 30%–50% in south-central counties from 2005–2015 caused concern among hunters and managers. To determine how turkey productivity might be related to the perceived population decline, we radio-tagged and tracked 152 females with VHF transmitters throughout the 2017–2018 nest- ing seasons. We documented nest-site selection, nesting rate, clutch size, hatching rate, renesting rate, and daily nest survival. We used conditional lo- gistic regression to determine which landscape-scale and nest-site vegetation characteristics were most related to nest-site selection by females. We used nest-survival models to determine which temporal, landscape-scale, and site-specific vegetation characteristics were most related to daily nest survival. On average, 75.7% of females incubated a nest, clutch size was 9.3 ± 0.4 SE (successful nests), and based on daily nest survival estimates, 33.9% of nests that were incubated hatched. Nest-site selection was positively associated with the amount of early succession and shrubland available in pre-nesting home ranges, and positively associated with visual obstruction (0–50 cm above-ground) and percent vegetation cover above the nest, but negatively as- sociated with distance from trails or roads. The best-supported model for daily nest survival included a single covariate: percent vegetation cover above the nest. We documented that a gradient in the quality of cover available for nesting was directly linked to daily nest survival. Nesting cover, therefore, could be improved through targeted forest and field management prescriptions that specifically address vegetation structure.

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