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Monday, April 21, 2014
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Published: 2/1/2004

Return of wild turkeys great success story in Ohio

Don t be surprised next spring if you are eagle-watching or searching for songbirds or shorebirds along the south side of Sandusky Bay and you hear the distinctive courting gobble of a tom wild turkey.

The birds are there, released last week on a private marsh by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and National Wild Turkey Federation in a continuing effort to populate likely areas with these magnificent gamebirds.

All 88 of Ohio s counties already have established populations of wild turkeys, thanks to a nearly 50-year effort to restore the birds in the Buckeye State. But, said wildlife biologist Tim Plageman, “we re filling in niches of suitable habitat.”

Plageman, wildlife management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2, said the Sandusky Bay marshlands and private sites in Wood County and Van Wert County were identified in 2000 as promising turkey land.

Last week at least 16 birds were released along Sandusky Bay, with more to come in the three counties this winter, assuming that live-trapping efforts in southern and eastern counties, where turkeys are plentiful, are successful.

The state wildlife division began a trapping and relocation program in 1956 in southeast Ohio, using turkeys captured in other states. As the state s population increased, birds were relocated throughout the forestlands.

The return of the wild turkey, which once faced oblivion because of habitat losses and unregulated hunting, is a duly heralded conservation success story. Today some 95,000 Ohioans enjoy a regulated statewide spring “gobbler” hunting season and a limited fall season as well, thanks to cooperative efforts of the wildlife division, NWTF, and thousands of interested hunters.

In 1994 state biologists initiated an experimental stocking of birds in some of the more heavily wooded counties of west and northwest Ohio. The hope was that the birds would adapt to wooded and brushy stream and river corridors. They did.

So in the winter of 2000, turkey-less counties in the region were stocked, including parts of Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, Sandusky, Allen, Putnam and Van Wert counties. The birds, so to say, never looked back. Their success prompted the fill-in stockings this winter.

A tried-and-true stocking formula, Plageman said, is to release a potential flock of 20 to 24 birds, including seven to eight juvenile hens, a like number of adult hens, and three or four juvenile males, or jakes, and a like number of adult males - gobblers or toms. The key, Plageman said, is the adult hens, which should pull off successful nests of poults as soon as this spring.

Statewide there are about 200,000 wild turkeys, down from a high of 260,000 in 2002 because of two successive cold, wet springs of poor nesting. The state flock still is regarded as healthy, though in need of a good year-class of new birds.

Toledo will be the focal point Saturday for the kickoff of a statewide version of a national program to conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat - right in your own backyard.

The program is called Audubon At Home and its Ohio debut is scheduled Saturday at COSI in downtown Toledo. An information table will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The program is being kicked off here because U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), was instrumental in bringing start-up funding from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service to Ohio.

With suburban sprawl eating up two million acres of land annually, America s backyards and neighborhood green spaces become ever more critical for birds and other wildlife for food, cover and shelter. So the NRCS and National Audubon Society have joined in a program to engage the public in improving backyards and neighborhoods for wildlife.

An English-garden mentality pervades domestic landscaping - chemically managed lawns clipped to within an inch of their lives and “lollipop” trees that are pruned and shaped to death. Audubon At Home hopes to change some of their ingrained notions. That a group of conservation-minded neighbors might team up to share a common corner of adjoining properties to build a brushpile for wildlife is anathema, given prevailing cultural mindsets.

The actions that Audubon At Home will encourage may be as simple as installing native-plant windowsill flower boxes, or more extensive projects that include landscaping with native plants that encourage songbirds and other wildlife. Or creating brushpiles or patches of unmowed grasses for nesting cover.

The program also calls for reduction in use of pesticides and fertilizer at home. Such actions make homesteads safer for children, pets and wild creatures, and improves the water quality of lakes, streams and reservoirs by reducing poisonous runoffs. Native plants and bird-friendly habitat can save time and money.

“We ll be training volunteers through our Audubon chapters and through the public to help lead workshops and presentations and to become resources in their communities,” stated Casey Tucker, education specialist with Audubon Ohio.

Wildlife-friendly backyards and neighborhood green spaces can become buffer zones for wildlife, Tucker added.

NRCS transferred $500,000 to Audubon nationally to back the program.

“Birds don t recognize property lines, so approaches to wildlife conservation must cover both public and private lands, requiring innovative collaboration among government agencies, non-profit organizations, and the public,” said Frank Gill, vice president of science for NAS. “Working together NRCS and Audubon can bring conservation home.”

For other details, contact Audubon Ohio at 614-224-3303.

E-mail Steve Pollick at spollick@theblade.com.



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