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DEC seeks citizen scientists

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Four turkeys, count ‘em. That’s one of the things the State Department of Environmental Conservation is asking Islanders to do.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO Four turkeys, count ‘em. That’s one of the things the State Department of Environmental Conservation is asking Islanders to do.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wants you.

The DEC is seeking “citizen scientists” willing to help gather data about wildlife resources, focusing on wild turkeys.

Islanders certainly know they tend to be plentiful here, and the DEC needs updated data to guide decisions in managing the flock, asking participants to provide information on turkey sightings

The DEC has been tracking the wild turkey population since 1996 to estimate the number of poults, or young turkeys born to hens each year.

Weather, predators and habitat conditions during the breeding and rearing seasons can all have an impact, according to the DEC. During August, survey participants are being asked to record the sex and age composition of flocks of wild turkeys.

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry reports that the sex of adult birds can be determined from plumage. Males are generally more colorful with rust, green, cooper and bronze feathers, while females are dull and generally brown in color.

But as for the young poults, determining sex would require an up close and personal examination and, even then, the SUNY experts say it’s not easy to determine.

Noting that he’s not an expert on turkeys, the Shelter Island’s animal control officer, Beau Payne, said his own observations have shown that turkey populations on Long Island have been increasing for the past 20 years, and that seems to be the case on Shelter Island.

The decline of the fox population, a natural predator to wild turkeys, could be the reason for the increase, according to various sources.
The fox population “seems to be on the upswing” here, Mr. Payne said, possibly spurred by the increase in turkeys.

Anecdotally, residents with a lot of turkeys on their property have talked about a decline in ticks. Mr. Payne said it’s likely the turkeys would consume ticks as part of their diet, but doesn’t know if they would play a major role in reducing tick density.

In the final report of the Suffolk County Tick and Vector-Borne Diseases Task Force in 2015, Dr. Scott Campbell references the role poults and adult turkeys may have in tick dispersal due to their ground nesting and roaming habits, Mr. Payne said.

“Maybe Shelter Island’s increasing turkey population could accommodate a study of this role in coming years,” he suggested.

He encourages those who can to participate will “gain a better understanding of the world they live in as well as insight into the ways our government makes decisions regarding wildlife management.”

Anyone interested in joining the effort as a citizen scientist should call the DEC at (518) 402-8886 or email [email protected] and type “Turkey Survey” into the subject line.

Those less interested in turkeys, but with tracking invasive Asian Longhorned Beetles or Emerald Ash Borer insects that kill trees, can help the DEC this month by checking debris cleaned from pools. The DEC requests a digital photo emailed to the DEC at [email protected]

For those without pools, the agency is asking for pictures of the insects found in other places, although they are most frequently found around water sources.

Photos should be sent to [email protected]

[email protected]