NC State Student David Moscicki Monitors Wild Turkey Populations to Improve Management
David Moscicki is a Ph.D. student majoring in fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology in the College of Natural Resources. He’s currently examining wild turkey population dynamics as part of a collaborative study between the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) North Carolina State Chapter, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) and the College of Natural Resources.
David’s path to the College of Natural Resources is unique. After working in the film industry for five years with the goal of creating nature documentaries, he returned to school to learn more about nature itself. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his master’s degree from Louisiana State University, where he also studied wild turkeys in Texas.
“When a master’s position became available researching wild turkeys in Texas, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to apply, and I was lucky enough to have the skills and background to be offered the position. This solidified my want to focus on upland game species and their management. The Ph.D position at NC State has allowed me to continue my passion for research of wild turkeys using spatial-temporal data to address wild turkey demography and habitat selection across multiple-scales.”
Research shows a decline in wild turkey productivity throughout portions of the southeastern United States. While North Carolina’s productivity is relatively stable compared to other states, research will help promote and maintain healthy populations. David and the research team hope “to build a foundation on which all future hunter harvest and habitat management in North Carolina can be based.”
Trapping and monitoring turkeys
As part of the collaborative study, David and the research team are working to identify differences among turkey populations across North Carolina’s three regions. Each year, the team aims to collect data from 50 females and 30 males in the Coastal Plain, Piedmont and Mountains.
The study has two important phases — one for trapping and one for monitoring. The trapping phase lasts from January to March. During these months, David and the research team set up baited trap sites with cameras to pattern the birds and then attempt to trap them a few days later.
David and the research team work efficiently to cause the birds as little stress as possible. The males are fitted with very high frequency (VHF) backpack-style transmitter units that allow the team to monitor the individuals daily and determine whether they are alive or dead, along with the potential cause of death.
Because females hatch and care for the broods, they are the primary focus of the data collection. They are fitted with VHF-GPS backpack-style transmitters, which collect location data nine times daily over the course of two breeding seasons. The team uses this information to identify individual nesting attempts to determine nesting chronology and habitat use during the breeding periods.
During the monitoring phase, the goal is to locate each birds’ VHF signal at least two times a week and remotely download the location data stored on the tag every 10 to 14 days. This task becomes more difficult as spring temperatures arrive and the birds disperse. The data is then transferred to a map using geographic information system (GIS) software. From here, researchers can identify when the hens start nesting and when they should come off the nest.
David and other researchers also visit the nesting sites to measure vegetation structure and composition, as well as determine if the eggs hatched. The team assessed 106 nests just this year, the first of the three-year study.
Knowledge gained from the study will ultimately inform harvest regulations and habitat management across North Carolina’s three regions. “The overarching goal is to get this information out to the state wildlife agency and other relevant stakeholders, so they can use it as a baseline to make appropriate decisions and hopefully make recommendations to address turkey management initiatives,” David said.