Semester of Graduation

Fall 2019

Degree

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Renewable Natural Resources: Wildlife

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

The primary driver of population growth and sustainability of gallinaceous birds is annual recruitment. Habitat selection by wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo spp.) during reproductive activities could influence production at multiple temporal and spatial scales. Vegetation conditions at nest sites that could drive nest success have not been clearly identified, which suggests that other factors may drive reproductive success.

Female wild turkeys maintain dominance hierarchies, which could influence how reproductively active females distribute themselves across the landscape during reproductive periods. Using high-frequency GPS data collected from reproductively active females, I analyzed nesting attempts for Eastern (n = 381), Gould’s (n = 17), and Rio Grande wild turkeys (n = 67) at 10 study sites during 2014 – 2017. I evaluated average daily distance traveled, size of utilization distributions, overlap of utilization distributions, and habitat selection during the pre-egg laying and egg-laying periods. I found that larger ranges during laying and less distance traveled daily during laying contributed to greater nest success. Overlap of 50% utilization distributions occurred in 59.6% of all nesting attempts (n = 465) and negatively impacted nest success for Eastern wild turkeys. These results suggest that movement behaviors and the spatial distribution of nesting females may be an additional component of wild turkey reproductive success.

Identifying nest sites should govern all other components of habitat selection as female wild turkeys will be tied to these locations for the duration of the reproductive period. My objective was to evaluate vegetation conditions immediately before the selection of nest sites to determine if conditions at nests were different than those available. I evaluated vegetation conditions at nest sites and presumed travel paths used by 131 nesting female wild turkeys. I used 164 nesting attempts and measured vegetation at 37,976 locations along 492 movement paths. Average vegetation height at the nest site was met or exceeded at 61‒71% of random points, whereas visual obstruction was met or exceeded at 22-25%. These results indicate that vegetative conditions used by wild turkeys for nesting were not limited. This work illustrates that adequate nesting habitat may not be as limited across the landscape as previously thought, and that the process of nest site selection is time limited and likely occurs immediately prior to nest initiation.

Date

10-15-2019

Committee Chair

Collier, Bret

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