Game Bird – Ecology and Management

Contributed Oral Presentations

Contributed paper sessions will be available on-demand for the duration of the conference, then again at the conclusion of the conference.


Comparative Genomic Structure Within Alaskan Galliforms
Robert Wilson; Sarah Sonsthagen; Sandra Talbot
In Alaska, resident avian species such as ptarmigan and grouse possess unique ecological traits and likely corresponding genomic variation, allowing them to thrive year-round in Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems. Specialization to synergistic effects of thermal and day-light regimes typified by the Arctic may have resulted in narrow response windows in resident species, potentially rendering them more (or differentially) impacted than migratory species to environmental change. We collected reduced representation genomic (ddRAD) data for ptarmigan (rock, willow, white-tailed) and grouse species (spruce, ruff, and sharp-tailed) sampled along a latitudinal gradient (60-70°N) within Alaska. Our goals were to examine levels of genomic diversity and gene flow, and simultaneously identify loci in that may signal local adaptation to Arctic environments. Genomic diversity within Alaskan galliforms is arrayed differentially: weak to no genetic structure in rock ptarmigan (ΦST = 0.012; 0.009 within subspecies) and sharp-tailed grouse (ΦST = 0.012); isolation by distance in willow (ΦST = 0.023) and white-tailed (ΦST = 0.021) ptarmigan; and northern and southern clusters in spruce (ΦST = 0.036) and ruff (ΦST = 0.042) grouse. Patterns of genomic diversity coincide with physiogeographic features (e.g., mountain ranges) and highlight the importance of these environmental and ecological barriers shaping how genomic diversity is arrayed across the landscape. Lack of concordance in spatial patterns of genetic variation among certain species, and the presence of species-specific patterns, however, indicate that species behavior (movement, breeding, etc.) and habitat affinities still play key roles in driving the contrasting patterns of genomic structure among Alaska gallids. These findings highlight the importance of considering disparities in species’ life history traits when evaluating the influence of topographic features on the distribution of genomic diversity across the landscape in comparative analyses.
Influence of Spring Cover Crops on Ring-Necked Pheasant Populations in Kansas
Alixandra J. Godar; Adela Piernicky; David Haukos; Jeff Prendergast
Across the Midwest, agriculture has changed the landscape. Efficient farming practices allow farmers to plant more land and harvest more efficiently, fragmenting and degrading wildlife habitat. Many wildlife species, including the ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), have experienced significant population declines coinciding with the landscape changes. Pheasants persist in a variety of agricultural landscapes and tend to be tolerant of human activity. In western Kansas, landscapes supporting pheasants include a mosaic of corn, sorghum, and winter wheat. Winter wheat is alternated with corn or sorghum, leaving the field fallow every other summer. The common practice is chemical fallow, using herbicide to terminate all vegetation growth in the field until the next planting. Alternatively, planting cover cropping may increase beneficial plant species, promoting soil health and wildlife use. Cover crops have increased wildlife presence, but the influence on pheasant populations is poorly understood. We evaluated the effect of spring cover crops on pheasants from 2017 – 2019 in western Kansas. Study fields were divided into 4 treatments consisting of 3 cover crop seed mixes and a chemical fallow control plot. We monitored adult hen survival, nest survival, brood survival, and hen resource selection. Cover crops emerged in mid-May, after initiation of the majority of nests (0.928 daily survival, SE = 0.009). Timing of cover provided the most potential to impact brood survival (n = 22 broods). Female breeding season survival was estimated at 0.46 (SE = 0.05). Hens selected for cover at locations and Conservation Reserve Program land for cover type throughout the breeding season but, disproportionately, ~25% of brood locations were in cover crops and hens selected for a variety of vegetation characteristics including cover of forbs and bare ground. Cover crops are used by pheasants, primarily as alternative brood habitat.
Roles of Vegetation and Age in Nest Site Selection by Wild Turkeys
Andrea R. Litt; Michael J. Yarnall; Chadwick P. Lehman
Selecting a nesting location that provides sufficient concealment is essential to reduce the risk of predation, the most common cause of nest failure in gallinaceous birds. Older birds with more reproductive experience may be better able to recognize and select nest sites that are less vulnerable to predation, resulting in higher nest survival. We captured and radio-marked female Merriam’s wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) in 2016 and 2017 in the Northern Black Hills, SD, monitoring signs of nesting activity for at least 40 juvenile and 40 adult hens each year. To characterize nest site selection, we quantified visual obstruction, total cover, and canopy cover at the nest site, as well as at a paired random location. Most adult female turkeys (83%) and relatively few juveniles (26%) nested; we analyzed vegetation characteristics for 74 nests from adults and 25 nests from juveniles. Using an information-theoretic approach, we compared 14 conditional logistic regression models that included combinations of the three vegetation covariates, both with and without age class. Female turkeys selected nest sites with more visual obstruction compared to random locations (mean difference = 14.2 Robel pole increments of 1.27 cm, SE = 1.2). Although we tracked substantially more nests of juvenile turkey hens than previous studies, we were unable to detect differences in selection between adults and juveniles. Mammals are common nest predators in this region, such that lateral vegetation and guard objects (characterized by visual obstruction) surrounding nests might be most important to conceal turkeys while incubating. Selecting locations on the landscape with greater visual obstruction has important fitness implications, given that we previously documented higher daily survival rates for turkey nests with greater visual obstruction. If juvenile and adult hens select similar characteristics for nesting locations, age-based differences in nest survival also could result from variation in nest attendance.
Nest and Poult Survival of Eastern Wild Turkeys in South-Central Tennessee
Lindsey M. Phillips; Vincent M. Johnson; David A. Buehler; Craig A. Harper; Roger Shields; Roger D. Applegate
Eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) are an important game species across the eastern United States. However, many southeastern states, including Tennessee, are experiencing a decrease in spring harvest rates in portions of the state. To determine what may be driving this decline, eastern wild turkey reproduction was documented in five focal counties in south-central Tennessee. From 2017-2019, we tagged eastern wild turkey hens (n = 201) with VHF and GPS transmitters. We tracked hens throughout the nesting season each year and monitored nest locations every other day once incubation began. We trapped poults before 7 days old and fitted them with VHF transmitters. We monitored poult survival every day until 7 days old, and every other day until 28 days old. We performed flush counts at two and four weeks post-hatch. We used Program MARK to calculate daily survival rates for nests and poults. Average initial nesting rate was 74%, with an average daily survival rate (DSR) of 0.96 and average success rate of 23%. Average renesting rate was 33%, with an average DSR of 0.95 and average success rate of 21%. Average clutch size of initial nests and renests was 9.4 and 7.3 eggs, respectively. Based on transmittered birds, average poult survival was 11% for the 28-day period, with an average DSR of 0.88. Based on four-week flush counts, average poult survival was 28%. Estimates of the reproductive parameters in our study are lower than those of other studies conducted on stable or increasing populations using similar methods. We attribute reduced fecundity as the primary factor related to the decrease in harvest numbers in the counties we studied. Currently, we are conducting hen-specific habitat management experiments to determine if focused nest and brood habitat management strategies can improve productivity sufficiently to counter the apparent population decline.
Stopover Habitat Selection and Site Use of Fall Migrating American Woodcock in the Eastern Management Region
Clayton Graham; Tanner Steeves; Alexander Fish; Dr. Erik Blomberg; Dr. Scott McWilliams
Habitat selection during migration of eastern management region American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) is poorly known. As part of a large multi-state collaborative project, we used satellite transmitters to track 161 woodcock during fall migration 2018 and 2019 as they moved from breeding to wintering areas. We identified stopover locations using the moveHMM package in R and used a step-selection function to quantify the strength of habitat selection in relation to the following covariates: distance to wetlands, distance to hydric soil, distance to streams, distance to agricultural fields, distance to corn, distance to soybeans, and forest type (conifer, mixed or deciduous). Woodcock selected upland mature coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forest as stopover sites. A predictive LASSO model was used to identify sites most likely to be used as stopover sites by American Woodcock during fall migration. Such information about key stopover sites and migratory routes used by Woodcock enhances our ability to effectively manage habitat for Woodcock in this eastern region.
Behavioral Modifications Lead to Disparate Demographic Consequences in Two Sympatric Species
Evan P. Tanner; Jeremy P. Orange; Craig A. Davis; Dwayne Elmore; Samuel D. Fuhlendorf
Life‐history theory suggests species that typically have a large number of offspring and high adult mortality may make decisions that benefit offspring survival in exchange for increased adult risks. Such behavioral adaptations are essential to understanding how demographic performance is linked to habitat selection during this important life‐history stage. Though studies have illustrated negative fitness consequences to attendant adults or potential fitness benefits to associated offspring because of adaptive habitat selection during brood rearing, equivocal relationships could arise if both aspects of this reproductive trade‐off are not assessed simultaneously. To better understand how adaptive habitat selection during brood rearing influences demographics, we studied the brood survival, attendant parental survival, and space use of two sympatric ground‐nesting bird species, the northern bobwhite (hereafter: “bobwhite”; Colinus virgininanus) and scaled quail (Callipepla squamata). During the 2013-2014 breeding seasons, we estimated habitat suitability across two grains (2 m and 30 m) for both species and determined how adult space use of these areas influenced individual chick survival and parental risk. We found the proportion of a brood’s home range containing highly suitable areas significantly increased bobwhite chick survival (β = 0.02, SE = 0.006). Additionally, adult weekly survival for bobwhite was greater for individuals not actively brooding offspring (0.9716, SE = 0.0054) as compared to brooding adults (0.8928, SE = 0.0006). Conversely, brood habitat suitability did not influence scaled quail chick survival during our study, nor did we detect a survival cost for adults that were actively brooding offspring. Our research illustrates the importance of understanding life‐history strategies and how they might influence relationships between adaptive habitat selection and demographic parameters.
Integrating Survival and Harvest Rates to Estimate Wild Turkey Population Size Across Maine
Matthew Gonnerman; Stephanie Shea; Kelsey Sullivan; Pauline Kamath; Erik Blomberg
Wild turkey populations have steadily grown since their reintroduction in the 1970s. In Maine, this has led to need for resource managers to balance maintaining quality turkey hunting while decreasing potential for human-wildlife conflicts. Due to harsh winter conditions, turkeys in Maine often associate with areas where anthropogenic food subsidies are available, which has prompted concerns over property damage and spillover of disease into domestic livestock. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife set out to develop a rigorous monitoring program to better inform harvest regulations for turkeys to meet the needs of both hunters and Maine’s citizens. Our objective was to provide MDIFW with a tool to estimate region-specific turkey abundance that better informs management plans. In Winter 2018-2020, we banded 848 turkeys across Maine. We used these data to estimate harvest rates using the Seber parameterization of a dead recovery model. Estimates of harvest rates for these models and total reported harvest for each hunting season were combined in a Lincoln estimator to estimate population size for management districts. To account for mortality of turkeys between banding and hunting seasons, we estimated weekly survival rates in a nest survival framework using information from individuals fit with VHF radio transmitters (n = 262). Estimated weekly survival rates differed by management district (0.970 – 0.985) and month of the year (0.949 – 0.993). Harvest rates also varied by wildlife management district; 0.119 – 0.228 for adult males and 0.046 – 0.178 for juvenile males. Estimated statewide turkey populations were 18,932 (± 9,264 SE) adults males and 13,764 (± 3,361) juvenile males in 2018 and 21,132 (± 10,341) adults males and 12,477 (± 3,046) juvenile males in 2019. These estimates of population size can be incorporated into a harvest management tool to better inform turkey management according to desired objectives.


Contributed Oral Presentations
Location: Virtual Date: Time: -