Turkey time returns

The outdoors is calling each spring as wild turkey hunters hold out their best expectations to be in the right place at the right time to call in a tom turkey. It can be done as attested to each year by youth with giant smiles as a proud parent, uncle or aunt watches over their shoulder. Tomorrow is the beginning of season number one for gun hunters in Iowa. Before the season closes in mid May, approximately 10,000 tom turkeys will have become future dinner banquet meals safely tucked away in the home freezer. This scribe wishes all turkey hunters a safe and enjoyable hunt this year.

Nationally, 7 million wild turkeys is a classic wildlife management success story. It is really a phenomenal comeback from the dark days of the early 1900s. Prior to that time, tremendous habitat changes in combination with unregulated market hunting had severely taken a toll on this largest of gallinaceous (chicken-like) game birds. Two critical factors are responsible for its success. First, the creation of net systems for capture based on a rocket-like propelled net. These devices allowed wildlife managers to set bait station traps, allow the turkeys to feed into the bait, then set off the charges to capture live birds. Those birds were relocated to other habitats across the nation over many decades. It worked. Secondly, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was formed in 1973. It was the private money brought into the wildlife departments and a cooperative partnership that allowed for expansion of live trapping programs. Because of these efforts, more than 99 percent of suitable habitat in North America now has a population of wild turkeys to call home.

In 1973, there were only 22 states with some short term hunting season for turkeys. Today there are hunting seasons in 49 states, Canada and Mexico. Nationally, more than 3 million girls, boys, men or women hunt this bird. Between 1973 and today, the NWTF has been able to invest over $412 million dollars to conservation and our hunting heritage. Those funds have helped secure more than 17 million acres of wildlife habitat. In Marshall County, statewide NWTF dollars have been secured in the past as part of local land acquisition grants. These projects have helped acquire lands such as the Marietta Sand Prairie addition and the Iowa River Wildlife Management Area. One motto of the NWTF is “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt.” It is critical that wild places for wildlife be found and conserved for the benefit of all wildlife. In today’s intense competition for land, wildlife should not have to take a back seat to economic pressures. Turkey habitats sought after are forests, stream-side corridors, fields and meadows, scrublands/grasslands.

Hurray for the wild turkey. Hurray for science based wildlife management. Hurray for cooperative private-public partnerships that brought success and critical funding to this species’ defense. Hurray for the National Wild Turkey Federation.

WOOD DUCKS are back and they have taken up nesting activities again. Locally the nest box program is working. More than 200 artificial nest boxes have been constructed, set in place, and allowed to serve as free housing for the colorful wood duck pair. One observation on a private property enabled the land owner to watch wood ducks fly about when all of a sudden, a hen woody flew into the nest box hole. Almost immediately, she popped out to fly away. Why? There was a hen woody already occupying the nest box. Natural tree hole cavities are used by wood ducks … if they can find them. While most ducks nest in wetlands or the adjacent upland grasses, the woody is a perching duck that prefers and wants natural cavities in trees. Listen for the whistling type call of wood ducks when you are out and about during a spring hike at Green Castle, Timmons Grove, the Forest Reserve, Arney Bend or Grammer Grove.

EGGS are laid by birds, incubated for the prescribed length of time, and as hatching takes place, new bird life emerges into the world. Here are some interesting facts about waterfowl and the nests they make. Each egg has all the vital components needed to produce a new life in the form of the developing embryo, and a new duckling. The adult bird’s actions are entirely focused on surviving, nest building, avoidance of predators and keeping the nest full of eggs warm, dry and protected from weather.

Eggs have three major components: the shell, the yolk and the albumen. The shell is the source of most of the calcium the embryo absorbs during development to form cartilage and bone. The yolk is various forms of fats, essential stuff. The albumen is mostly protein. Micronutrients necessary for development are found in all three components.

Ducks lay their eggs in what we humans call a clutch. If one adds the weight of all the eggs in one nest, it may equal the body weight of the female bird. This is remarkable since she has to produce all the elements in the eggs from her own body reserves. That store of goodies had to be obtained during her wintering grounds time, plus not used up in energy losses during migration. Thus it is very important that all along her journey from wintering areas to final nesting site, each habitat stop along the way must provide replacement energy. Once at the nesting grounds, a nest full of eggs must stay undetected from predators. From the predator’s standpoint, a nest of eggs is a banquet of huge proportions. It is a huge loss for waterfowl.

What happens inside the egg, in the nest and prior to hatching? Lots of stuff. First, one egg a day is laid usually in the morning when predators are least active. The hen will usually leave the nest and feed elsewhere. Once she has laid all the eggs, serious work begins. Now she spends almost all of her time on the eggs while pulling grasses and twigs into the nest edge to help create a bowl shaped depression. She will also pluck soft downy feathers from her body to line the nest. Mixed with other nest materials, a very effective blanket is formed to keep the eggs warm and conceal the nest. The hen also is now directly applying her body heat to the eggs to raise the egg inside temperature to the correct level to induce embryonic cell division. All the eggs, even though laid at different times, will continue to develop equally in their transition to a duckling. The hen periodically rolls the eggs and in so doing gets some eggs out of the center and closer to the edge. During the three week long incubation period, each egg has opportunity for equal heating and equal development.

As hatching time gets closer, the hen communicates with her ducklings. They hear her and begin to imprint on those sounds. Clucking sounds from the hen help to synchronize hatching and forms cohesive bonds between mother and offspring. Hatching from the egg takes several hours. The first out of the shell may be warm and dry by the time the last egg hatches and its contents still wet wiggle about under the overshadowing feathers of the sitting hen. Each duckling has a temporary “egg tooth” on its top bill to use as a scratching tool. Repeated scratchings from the interior weaken the shell to allow it to break.

Each duckling has enough food sources internally to live for the first day. But the hen will abandon the nest quickly to lead her brood to a pond or other water source she has selected. It is in the pond waters that sustaining foods will be found. The hen does not feed her young. She just takes them to places where food can be found. The ducklings know how to feed themselves from day one. At this time, young ducklings are very vulnerable to predators from the sky or the ground. Finding adequate habitats to hide in and feed are essential. Some nests will be lost. That too is nature’s way. Re-nesting will take place, particularly by mallards, who have been known to make up to five attempts to bring off a successful brood. Pintail ducks may only re-nest one time or not at all. In the long run, the first nests, if successful, is more likely to have the odds in favor of the young surviving the rigors of life in a wetland complex.

EARTH DAY is coming up soon on April 20. Join others at the Conservation Center to hear a presentation by Karen King on Wildlife of Florida Wetlands. She will offer a free program at noon. King was a former guide for wildlife forays and is a wildlife photographer/artist. Other events start at 10 a.m. with a scavenger hunt. At 1 p.m. a tree planting service project will take place. Free hot dogs to eat will be available throughout the day. For details, call the Marshall County Conservation Board at 752-5490.

The local IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE has set dates for 2013 Sporting Clay shoots. Those dates are May 5 and June 2. Registrations begin at 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Lunch will be available. Also the Ikes are in need of steel fence posts for a border fence repair/replacement task. If you have some steel T posts to donate, call Barry Gaarder at 641-750-5603 or Mark Dolash at 751-6219.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.” George Bernard Shaw

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.