Date of Award

5-2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Frederick A. Servello

Second Committee Member

David E. Yarborough

Third Committee Member

Francis A. Drummond

Abstract

A highly successful reintroduction program has restored wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) to Maine in large numbers and wild blueberry (low sweet blueberry [Vaccinium angustfoliumj) growers have increasingly expressed concern about wild turkeys inhabiting their farms. The objectives of the present study were to determine the concerns and perceptions of wild blueberry growers about wild turkeys, describe wild turkey activity and diet while using blueberry fields, and estimate blueberry crop loss. In 2008 I sent a mail-in questionnaire about wild turkey and wildlife damage to all wild blueberry growers in Maine. I studied wild turkey activity on four wild blueberry farms in Knox County, ME from mid-May through July 2008 and 2009. I used an activity budget to describe behavior, and used fecal analysis and video recording to document food items consumed. To estimate crop loss from wildlife I compared proportion of blueberry loss rates between open or enclosed plots. I modeled blueberry crop loss by wild turkey using results from the present study and the literature. Forty-two percent of growers responded (n = 225) to the questionnaire, and most (76%) reported no or few benefits from wild turkeys on their farms. Most (60%) growers were concerned with damage from wild turkeys. Deer (66%) was the species most commonly indicated as causing damage. Growers were most concerned with wild turkeys eating blueberries (54%) and knocking blueberries off stems (44%). In general, concerns were shared by respondents in regions of the state both with and without high wild turkey densities. Wild turkeys were present on blueberry fields 29% of total survey time (820 hours). Wild turkeys used blueberry farms and spent greater proportions of survey time on fields during the pre-fruiting compared to the fruiting season (2008: P = 0.01, 2009: P < 0.001). Overall, wild turkeys spent approximately 50% of time in foraging behaviors. On two sites, feeding behaviors were not different between seasons (Marrs Hill: P = 0.468, Clarry Hill: P = 0.861) or field types (Marrs Hill: P = 0.256), but there were yearly differences (Marrs Hill: P = 0.005, Clarry Hill: P < 0.001). Before blueberries ripened, other foods such as weedy vegetation comprised most (90%) of the foods used while in blueberry fields. During the fruiting season, wild blueberries were 46% of the food items used. In both years the rate of blueberry loss on plants did not differ between open and enclosed plots (2008: P = 0.693, 2009: P = 0.498). Based on mean estimates for model inputs from the present study and the observed mean flock size (n = 4), the "average" scenario for our study sites resulted in a loss of 18.7 kg ($33.39) of wild blueberries by wild turkeys. This loss represented 0.05% of the total crop for a 20 ha field. Experimental (enclosure) and modeling results were consistent. My results indicate that wild blueberry crop losses by wild turkeys are relatively low. Better information on actual crop loss will be helpful to both wild blueberry growers and wildlife managers.

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