After just a couple months of what will be a three-year study of Maryland’s wild turkeys, the state’s upland bird chief is pleased.

“We got off to a good start,” said Bob Long who directs wild turkey management in the state.

Early this year, crews from the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service trapped turkeys in Western Maryland and the counties of the lower Eastern Shore. At each location, 25 hens were equipped with radio tracking devices. Leg bands were placed on about 60 gobblers, half of which were longbeards.

The monitoring of hens will provide much needed information, such as travel, nesting locations and cause of mortality. If hunters who bag a banded gobbler cooperate and contact the agency via the information on the band, the percentage of bearded birds taken during the hunting season can be estimated.

“This was a learning experience for us,” Long said. “The last time turkeys were trapped in Maryland was about 20 years ago.” That effort allowed the agency to transplant turkeys into parts of the state where none or few existed and is the reason that spring gobbler hunting now is available from the Atlantic Ocean to the county line separating Garrett County from Preston County, West Virginia. The greatest haul from one net launching was 18 turkeys. “There were other times when we would get just a couple gobblers in the net,” Long said.

In late winter, crews baited portions of public land or private land where permission was obtained. Rocket nets were activated when groups of turkeys were working the bait sites.

In Western Maryland the bulk of radio equipped hens came from eastern Allegany County and western Washington County. The banded gobblers were trapped throughout the three-county region.

“One-third of the hens we captured were juveniles,” Long said, adding that two of those birds were monitored walking as much as six miles north into Pennsylvania. Two of those birds apparently took a look around in the Keystone State and decided to sashay back to their capture point in Maryland.

The radio transmitters on the hens provide a detailed location once each hour. Long said at 2:30 one morning a signal from an Eastern Shore bird showed chaotic movement. When staff investigated on the ground soon after, it became apparent that a predator had killed the hen while it perched in a tree. “More than likely, it was an owl,” Long said.

Staff will monitor the hens two or three times each week to determine movement and any mortality that takes place.

“We had no trouble finding turkeys and there was fine cooperation from private landowners making us aware of flocks and allowing us to capture them,” Long said.

Maryland is joined by some nearby states in the project. The data will be analyzed at Penn State University.

“We have already learned a good bit,” Long said. “It was an effort getting staff up to speed on the trapping technique and learning all of the new equipment and devices that are available now compared to 20 years ago.”

Long said the timing of nesting will be important data to come from the study. “We know that some of the hens are already on eggs,” he said when interviewed on April 10.

Mike Sawyers retired in 2018 as outdoor editor of the Cumberland Times-News. His column now appears biweekly, as well as in Rod & Gun. To order his book, “Native Queen, a celebration of the hunting and fishing life,” send him a check for $15 to 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557.

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