Owls, hawks, and bobcats pose a far greater threat to wild turkeys than coyotes as predators — Photo: Eddie Ferrari
The numbers of turkeys tend to fluctuate in West Virginia now. Years ago, when the DNR was in the process of a trap and transfer program, it was common to see more and more birds with each passing year. Biologist say the population has leveled off in the Mountain State and varies through natural occurrences year to year.
The increased numbers of birds has come at the same time the number of coyotes has jumped in West Virginia. A lower number of turkey sightings make a lot of hunters tend to believe the coyotes are hurting the population.
But Curtis Taylor, Chief of Wildlife for the West Virginia DNR says that’s a myth.
"Coyotes are not an efficient predator of turkeys," he said during a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors. "That’s something that we hear constantly, but they’re not really adapted to kill turkeys."
Taylor backs up his claim with the DNR’s radio telemetry study of the wild turkey a few years back. Researchers placed radio transmitters on more than 700 turkey hens and followed them for five years. During that period of time, only two of the turkeys in the survey were killed by coyotes.
"They (coyotes) don’t have retractable claws," said Taylor. "Bobcats on the other hand are a pretty effective predator, as are hawks and owls."
But while coyotes may not be putting a hurt on the numbers of turkeys–they are putting a hurt on hunters trying to kill one.
"Could they suppress gobbling? Yes they could," said Taylor. "I saw that in numerous places where they would quit gobbling because they don’t want to attract predators to where they’re at."
Taylor‘s observations throw a wet blanket on the theory often conceived by many hunters who aren’t hearing as many turkeys in the area. An abundance of coyotes in an area doesn’t necessarily translate to fewer gobblers, but it might create a shortage of gobbles.