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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Lester D. Flake


Merriam's turkeys are not indigenous to the Black Hills of South Dakota and were introduced to the area in the late 1940's and early 1950's. During the winter months many turkeys in the southern Black Hills rely on supplemental feeding at ranches/farmsteads whereas some turkeys remain in the forest and feed mainly on ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) seed. The main objectives of this project were to evaluate roosting habitat and poult survival of Merriam's turkeys in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. Wild turkey females were captured during the winters of 2001 and 2002 and fitted with radiotransmitters to determine roost sites and assess poult survival. In the southern Black Hills, Merriam's turkeys roosted exclusively in ponderosa pine trees. Primarily larger trees within the forest stand were chosen for roosting (avg. dbh = 34.3 cm ± 0.73). Roost trees were characterized by open canopies with horizontal branching, facilitating easier access into the roost. Roost sites were selected in stands with larger diameters, and lower tree density compared to adjacent sites within the forest. Turkeys dependent on supplemental feeding generally used the same roost site(s) throughout the winter, whereas turkeys remaining in the forest used multiple roost sites during this time period. Females with poults less than 13 days old roost at night on the ground because poults can not fly. These ground roosts were chosen in areas that provided suitable visual obstruction and were generally located (77 %) directly adjacent to some type of guard object (i.e. rock, tree trunk, stump, slashpile). Poults initiated tree roosting between 13-14 days posthatch (range =10-17 days), and did not begin tree roosting until all brood members were capable. Habitat characteristics of poult tree roost sites were similar to those selected by adult turkeys except that hens with poults selected larger diameter trees for roosting. Hens with poults generally roosted near the midsection of the tree as opposed to adults which roosted in the upper portions of trees. Poult survival rates to 4 weeks posthatch in the southern Black Hills was similar to lower than survival rates reported from other studies (!(4 week) = 0.27 SE 0.12). Poult survival rates were insignificantly higher during 2002 (P > 0.10). The increased invertebrate abundance during 2002, coupled with cold wet weather during poult development in 2001 accounted for the slight variation between poult survival between years in the southern Black Hills. Roosting habitat is not a limiting factor affecting turkey distribution in the southern Black Hills. Poult Recruitment is maintaining the population of Merriam's turkeys in the southern Black Hills.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Merriam's turkey -- Habitat -- Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)
Merriam's turkey -- Mortality -- Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)
Wild turkey -- South Dakota


Includes bibliographical references (page 65-75)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2003 Daniel J. Thompson. All rights reserved.