Auburn professor studying decline in wild turkey population in Alabama, rest of country

Published 5:45 am Sunday, November 7, 2021

The wild turkey population has been declining in the U.S. over the last 10 to 15 years, and Auburn University professor Will Gulsby is determined to find out why.

Gulsby is an associate professor of wildlife management in Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and will be conducting research to identify the areas where the wild turkey population is decreasing in regions of Alabama and the reasons behind it.

Gulsby said the turkey population is not just declining in Alabama but is also declining in other areas throughout the southeast.

“Turkeys are one of the most important game species and most important hunted species in our state, second only to the whitetail deer,” Gulsby said. “The amount of information we have on the turkey population and reproduction is very limited compared to what we know about deer, so we’re trying to catch up.”

Gulsby will be gathering data from public lands and private lands, which are rarely included in wildlife population studies.
He will be conducting research on sites in four regions in Alabama to get a representation of turkey reproductive timing and behaviors across the different climates of the state.
Gulsby will be using artificial intelligence and autonomous recording units to collect data on reproductive behaviors by determining the timing of turkey gobbling.
“We’ll have a recording unit, or microphone, 30 feet up in a tree to record all the turkey gobbles in the area,” Gulsby said. “We’ll have about 90 devices across the state, so the artificial intelligence will allow us to go through more data.
“Knowing when the turkeys are gobbling tells us the timing of their reproductive activities,” Gulsby said.
During this research project Gulsby will be looking at where the birds are more abundant and where they are less abundant, how population differs from one property to another, and the characteristics of each property.
He will also determine the timing of turkey gobbling and how it’s influenced by hunting pressure, determine the proportion of male turkeys capable of fertilizing clutches of eggs, and monitor success and failure rates of nests.
While monitoring turkey nests, Gulsby will be researching the cause of nest failure and the survival rate of young turkeys and will test for diseases.
“It’s important that any hunted species is hunted sustainably,” Gulsby said. “The best thing hunters can do is get involved with conservation organizations like Alabama Wildlife Federation and Turkeys for Tomorrow because they fund the research that’s needed to ensure the populations are sustainable in the future.”
The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries has recently implemented additional restrictions on turkey hunters for the spring in response to the concerns of the declining population.
Gulsby will be releasing research updates throughout the study, and hopes to start publishing results within three to four years.
He will be collaborating with Michael Chamberlain from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia.
“Dr. Gulsby’s unique, wide-ranging research will yield valuable insights into the reasons the turkey population has been in decline and, most significantly, lead to steps that can be taken to reverse that trend, benefiting conservationists, hunters and the state in general,” Dean Janaki Alavalapati of the Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences said in a release.