Spring floods take toll on Mississippi turkeys

By Bryan Brasher/The Commercial Appeal

HERNANDO — More than four months after the historic floods that pushed the Mississippi River far outside its banks, several species of wildlife are still feeling the effects of the natural disaster.

One species that seems to have been hurt as much as any is the wild turkey.

In a recent brood survey conducted by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, only 27 percent of hen turkeys were seen with young and mother turkeys averaged just 3.9 poults apiece.

Both numbers are down significantly from last year’s banner hatch.

“The hatch in 2010 was one of the better hatches we’ve had in Mississippi for the last 10 years,” said MDWFP Turkey Program Coordinator Dave Godwin. “But things seem to be down quite a bit this year.”

Godwin said the east-central portions of the state are still doing well, but numbers are down in many other areas of the state, including the northern Delta regions.

The spring floods no doubt contributed to the decreased numbers in the Delta because many nesting hens were literally washed out of their nests when the Mississippi River rose to an incredibly high level.

Not only did the hens in the Delta region produce fewer poults, but some were actually killed when the rising waters left them no place to take refuge.

“The flood waters were really tough on whitetail deer, and they’re known for being good swimmers,” said Andy Tweed, a conservation officer with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “Turkeys that got caught up in the flood waters didn’t have a chance. I’m sure a lot of them didn’t last 30 seconds in the swift water.”

Mississippi conservation officials believe the heat wave that followed the spring floods may have also played a role in the decreased hatch. Much of the state experienced record heat and a drought during the peak of the hatching period, causing many poults to die.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the negative impacts of a cool, wet spring,” Godwin said. “But extremes at the other end of the scale could have had an effect on the hatch as well.”

Mississippi officials aren’t fretting too much over the decreased numbers in this year’s survey because the turkey population was in such good shape after the stellar 2010 hatch.

“We had a great hatch last year, so a large portion of this spring’s population was made up of yearling hens,” said MDWFP Turkey Program biologist Adam Butler. “Yearling hens don’t nest as much as older birds — and when they do nest, they usually aren’t as successful.

“With that being the case, you would almost expect things to be down a bit this year.”