Conservation department to put backpacks on wild turkeys to track their movement

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Technology and conservation are converging to help solve a problem. This winter, some wild turkeys in Missouri will be getting backpacks to track where they’re going.

It’s part of a research study to determine why turkey populations have been in decline in the Show-Me State.

Missouri researchers are trying to solve a mystery, to determine why turkey populations have been in decline statewide since 2016.

The solution they’ve hit upon, backpacks for turkeys.

“This isn’t something new.  Researchers have been putting radio transmitters on turkeys for decades now.  We’re going to be implementing a new study in Missouri where we’re going to be capturing adult hens in the wild and attaching a GPS backpack to them.  We call it a backpack because of the way you attach the transmitter is that you use an elastic shock cord to loop it around their wings.  So, they literally to wear it around their wings like a kid wears a backpack around their arms,” said Reina Tyl, Resource Scientist & Wild Turkey Program Leader, Missouri Department of Conservation.

Previously, older radio receivers were large and cumbersome to fit onto a wild animal, making research into movement difficult.

But smaller GPS devices, geared up on about 70 gobblers in Putnam County the beginning of 2021 should give new insight into where turkeys are trotting and why they’re not returning in some cases.

“We’re looking to capture the female turkeys which we call hens.  The purpose of that is to study their reproduction.  We want to be able to track them as they go through the breeding season, nesting season and hopefully after they hopefully hatch a nest.  We want to monitor them and the young polts,” said Tyl.

The study with the University of Missouri and Missouri Department of Conservation is expected to take four years.

This follows a recent backpack study in northern Missouri.

It seems turkey production in the last few years, the hatches have been relatively poor.  There’s been a long-term declining trend in production specifically the last four years have been near record lows for as long as we’ve been collecting data which is 1959.”

The data collected will be used to assist turkey reproduction numbers statewide.

“My speculation is that it’s multiple things causing it not just one and that’s about it.  That’s all we can say.”

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