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Wild turkeys will carry tiny backpacks to give researchers information
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Wild turkeys will carry tiny backpacks to give researchers information

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Wild turkey backpacks

Wildlife watchers in Missouri may soon see a strange sight: wild turkeys carrying little backpacks.

The turkeys aren’t hauling their camping gear or school books. Instead, some will be fitted with little backpacks to track where they go and when they go to certain places.

The idea is for the turkeys to provide the Missouri Department of Conservation with information about why wild turkey populations are declining in the state. The number of wild turkeys has been slowly falling for decades, but has been especially low the past four years.

The scientists will combine the information they receive from the turkey backpacks with other research. That will include gathering information on animals that eat turkeys, the birds’ food sources and the weather.

Wild turkeys are found in 49 states as well as parts of southern Canada. They eat a variety of plants as well as insects. In the spring the birds nest on the ground. A hen may lay anywhere from four to 17 eggs. The eggs hatch in about 25 to 30 days.

Since the eggs are on the ground, they may be eaten by skunks, foxes, birds and rodents. After the eggs hatch, the young birds are called poults. They are easy prey for raccoons, coyotes and other predators until they grow big enough to fly.

It takes about four to five weeks for the young birds to get big enough to fly. Then they can join adults and spend the night in trees, called roosts, to avoid predators. Flying also helps them escape attackers. Adult birds can fly at speeds of 55 mph, and they can run at speeds up to 25 mph.

On average, wild turkeys only live about 2.5 years. In that short amount of time they can grow up to 40 inches tall and weigh about 17 pounds.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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