Wild turkeys are more numerous than they have been in decades and in some regions, there are arguably more birds than ever throughout the United States.
Texas is the number one state in terms of turkey population with more than 500,000 Rio Grandes and scattered populations of easterns.
Of all threats, feral hogs are the most misunderstood and their potential for impact is growing. These non-indigenous omnivores have spread from the Deep South into 20 states with their most recent conquest being the Finger Lakes region of New York. Hogs have significant impacts on their environments and research suggests there is a negative effect on turkey nesting success.
Take for example a study conducted in Rio Grande turkey country, the Edwards Plateau. There, researchers used chicken eggs to simulate turkey nestings and found that hogs destroyed 28 percent of them.
On the other hand, some researchers, including V.G. Henry debate the hog’s effectiveness at nest predation arguing that they are “haphazard nest predators” and that hogs are, “not additive to nest predation, but only replaced that which would have occurred by other predators either driven off or preyed upon by feral hogs, especially snakes.”
Research conducted on other ground-nesting animals, including reptiles may shed some light on the potential for hogs to harm turkey nests. In Georgia, for example, 80 percent of sea turtle nests were lost on Ossabow Island due to hog predation.
“There is no doubt that feral hogs have a negative impact on their environment and research certainly suggests that they can and do destroy the nests of turkeys and other ground nesting birds,” said Rick Taylor, a retired feral hog specialist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).
According to TPWD, the earliest stocking attempts utilized pen-reared turkeys and later the Rio Grande subspecies trapped in the western half of Texas. Both methods failed to create a sustainable turkey population in east Texas.
“Beginning in the late 1970’s, TPWD began releasing wild trapped Eastern turkeys from neighboring states. By 2003, over 7,000 Eastern turkeys had been stocked into east Texas utilizing a block stocking approach. This method called for stockings of 15-20 birds per site with 5-10 sites scattered across a particular county. While this method was successful in several areas of the state, most of the stocked birds disappeared without creating a sustainable population.”
Despite the intensive efforts that saw turkey hunting opened throughout most of the region, recent years have seen many saw counties lose turkey hunting due to declining numbers. At the same time, feral hog populations have skyrocketed as has housing developments and urbanization.
Is there a connection?
Chester Moore, Jr.