In 2006 I was at a motel parking lot in Tomahawk, Wis., unloading my truck after a day of hunting ruffed grouse (the other white meat). A fellow hunter pulled in and struck up a conversation, asking how we’d done and had we seen many birds? In the ensuing conversation, he told me that he’d hunted in this particular area since the mid-70s and that grouse numbers were lower than they had ever been. Why am I telling you any of this in a blog about bobwhites? Because this hunter was firmly convinced that turkeys were the reason he now found fewer grouse in the same coverts he had hunted for the past 30 years. Many hunters are convinced that the wild turkey is some super predator, crashing through the thickets and fields like the T. rex from Jurassic Park. But there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case.
A lesson from statistics
One thing that sticks out in my mind more than anything else from a statistics class I once took is that “correlation does not imply causation.” Just because two things happen at the same time does not necessarily mean that one caused the other. In the past 30 years, Missouri’s turkey populations have increased dramatically, while at the same time quail populations have declined. But in that same time period, the price of gasoline has gone up 1,000 percent. Have higher gas prices caused a decline in quail numbers? Of course not. But neither have increased turkey populations. While we can follow the logic that suggests increased turkey numbers could cause reduced quail populations, the evidence for this simply is not there.
How do we know?
Wild turkey populations have been studied extensively throughout their North American range. Dozens of food-habits studies have been undertaken to explore the foods that turkeys consume throughout the year. In examining the crop contents of thousands of turkey crops, wildlife scientists have not reported even a single instance of finding quail, quail eggs or quail parts. Herbert Stoddard, a quail biologist in the 1930s, did report on a case of a turkey destroying a quail nest, but I know of no other such findings in the wildlife management literature.
Tall Timbers Research Station in Florida has a long history of quail research. In a project on quail nesting success, they placed cameras on dozens of bobwhite nests. They found a lot of predators