KEVIN TATE: Pounding through early summer heat key for turkey habitat

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The cicadas are in full force, the crappie are returning to the deep, the pattern of spring rain is over and, just like that, the dog days of summer are upon us for what sets up to be a record endurance run through the next three months, if not beyond.
If, like Havilah Babcock, my health is better in November, the question, “Better than when?” is answered every year about this time by the simple reply, “Now.”
For those of us already dreaming about cool fronts drifting down from the Great Plains and frost-covered windshields come morning, there are quite a few projects beyond the backyard we can undertake to help the wildlife in the woods and fence rows that call us home.
For those fortunate enough to work land that holds wild turkeys, these birds can serve as a bellwether for the overall health of the habitat itself and a good aiming point for improvement efforts. Weather affects their nests. Availability of forage affects their continued presence. Predators impact their very existence.
If the turkey flock is thriving, enough key variables are at an acceptable point and the rest of the habitat can be assumed to almost certainly be in great shape. It follows then that any efforts that help the turkeys help the balance of the habitat as well.
That being said, these next few weeks are critical for turkey poults and, therefore, critical in the overall health of the turkey population. According to the 2010 Mississippi Wild Turkey Report, 40 to 60 percent of turkey eggs are eaten by predators before they can hatch. Likewise, no small number of flightless young turkeys become food for everything from coyotes to bobcats.
Once turkeys reach the flight stage, however, wildlife biologist studies indicate less than 10 percent fall prey to tooth and claw. While eliminating predators on sight and one at a time has its attractions and certainly helps, the best use of the land manager’s time at this time of year has been shown to be planting clover fields and maintaining forest habitat.
“Nesting hens need dense vegetation hear the ground that will keep them concealed,” Adam Butler, MDWFP turkey program biologist, writes in the 2010 Mississippi wild turkey report. “Likewise, young turkeys need low-growing, lush vegetation that allows them to forage without being exposed. For adults, timber stands should not be so dense that the birds are unable to scan for potential danger.
Creative interspersion of these habitat types can minimize the amount of travel required for the birds to meet their needs, which will further reduce exposure to predators. All of these elements are important parts of a turkey habitat management plan.”

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.