DEM asks public to report wild turkey sightings

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Department of Environmental Management is asking Rhode Islanders to assist its Division of Fish and Wildlife’s wild turkey project by reporting any sightings of wild turkey hens with (or without) broods of young turkeys (poults).

DEM biologists say they need the information to evaluate this year’s reproduction of wild turkeys, the survival of the young, and the population of the state’s wild turkey flock.

Last year the public helped by reporting 142 turkey brood sightings, according to Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist at DEM and head of the wild turkey project. That information helped the DEM determine the number of young birds that survived after various mortality factors such as predators, poor weather, road kills or domestic cats took their toll.

“These reports helped document a below average year of productivity for the wild turkey in Rhode Island, with fewer than half of the previous year’s number of brood sightings being made,” said Tefft. The total number of adults reported was 281, while 867 poults were reported for a brood index of 3.1 young per hen in the 2014 survey.

The brood index also helps determine turkey population trends. The turkey population has shown a trend of decline over the past five years as reflected by the brood index and number of broods reported. The 2014 brood index of 3.1 young per hen surviving until fall was 3 percent below the 10-year average of 3.2 young per hen.

Weather-related factors and predators can dramatically affect productivity in ground-nesting birds like wild turkeys, but it is possible that other factors, including poor habitat, may be acting to increase these effects.  Warm, dry weather favors the survival of turkey poults and other ground-nesting birds, while cool and rainy conditions in early summer can reduce young survival.

Tefft estimates the overall statewide turkey population at approximately 3,000 birds. The wild turkey population in the state is a direct result of the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s successful trap and transfer program, which has resulted in improved opportunities and chances for the public to see and hunt wild turkeys.

The wild turkey restoration project began in 1980 with releases of wild trapped birds that established new turkey flocks in Exeter, Burrillville, Little Compton, West Greenwich, Foster, Scituate and Tiverton.

To report wild turkey sightings, hens with or without broods, participants should record the date, location, and the total number of hens and poults seen. Brood report forms can be downloaded from DEM’s website.

Participants in the survey are asked to send reports via email to, or by mailing brood report forms to Brian Tefft, Wild Turkey Project, 277 Great Neck Road, West Kingston, RI 02892.

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