I was moving along a logging trail one late May about 15 years ago when I spotted several very small turkeys, appearing and then vanishing in the high grass. I was yet undetected by them, and I tried to get a count of just how many poults were moving about.
Moments later, out of the cover of the weeds, up popped a hen turkey, maybe 20 feet away. A few moments later, after I had taken several steps forward, the hen lowered her head and charged in very convincing fashion. I was pretty sure this bird, weighing maybe 10 or 11 pounds, was prepared to attack a creature in front of her 20 times her size. How is that for pure motherly devotion, for raw bravery? Anyway, I did have the old trusty, turkey-killin’ .12 gauge over my shoulder but was not about to shoot a valiant mother who displayed undeniable courage.
I was once bitten on the leg many years by a German shepherd and once bitten on the hand by a German woman (OK, I’m making up the “German” reference to the woman because, you know, it sounded so cool. The fact is, it probably was an Italian woman, if my old memory serves).
Of course, momma hen charged about 8 feet and then ground to a halt. This gave her young the opportunity to scatter and that, of course, was the whole point of the charge.
Again, the trusty camera was on the front seat of my pickup, so I cannot offer proof but, as the saying goes, that is my story, and I’m sticking to it.
I have been fascinated by the wild turkey ever since I took up my shotgun and began hunting these wary critters for more than 30 years. And, on those rare occasions when I get to see young turkeys, I always made it a point to take a count.
To its credit, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has, for a number of years now, conducted a turkey brood survey every August. The survey is designed to encourage Vermonters who encounter a group of turkeys to count the total number of birds, including poults (young turkeys of spring), and then to report their findings on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife website.
This year, that has changed. This year, the Vermont brood survey will cover both the months of July and August.
The change came about, according to Vermont Fish & Wildlife turkey project leader Chris Bernier, because Vermont wanted to get in line with what most of the other Northeast and Eastern states have incorporated — a July-August brood count in their states.
“We’re trying to collect the data the same way it is being collected across the region,” he said in a phone interview. “We want to make it consistent across the range so that it improves our interpretive value.”
The survey is all about collecting the data of how many young are being seen out there on the landscape.
“This allows us to better access our productivity with that of other states,” Bernier said. “We want to know what factors are driving productivity. Is it solely climate, is it solely productivity, is it predators or is it management, that is accounting for those differences (year to year) in productivity?”
Bernier said input by the public is what drives the results of the brood survey.
“The value of this particular survey is that it is a citizen-based science survey that allows us to collect far more data than if we were doing it (employees of Fish & Wildlife) solely on our own,” Bernier said. “The more data that you have, the more meaning it has.”
Survey numbers over the past years indicate public response has been very good, Bernier said. “It varies from year to year but we generally have between 800 and 1,200 a year, I think that’s great. It will be great to get even more. We hope that will happen,” he said.
One other point Bernier wanted to make was the fact that the public becomes more engaged in nature, in this case, turkey populations.
“This is very cost-effective,” Bernier said. “It gets people thinking about wildlife and wildlife management.”
This is what Fish and Wildlife asks of Vermonters: If you see a flock of turkeys in Vermont during July and August, the department asks you to go to the turkey brood survey on its website — www.vtfishandwildlife.com — and report your observations, including where and when you observed the turkeys along with the number of adult and young turkeys, or poults.
Contact Dennis Jensen at d.jensen62@yahoo..