Arboretum serves as an outdoor classroom for turkey tracking project


Of the many wild turkeys roaming throughout the Arboretum, two are now sporting fancy neckwear and participating in a UW-Madison Wildlife Management Techniques class project.

Instructors John Cary and Scott Lutz along with students from the Wildlife Ecology Department have undertaken a wild turkey study at the Arboretum that involves trapping turkeys and placing radio collars to track their movements. The goal is to give students experience in using radio telemetry and in charting the turkey’s movements.

“The radios placed on the turkeys are intended to generate data about urban turkey ecology here in Wisconsin,” says Cary. “Quite a bit of turkey research is done in the context of recreational hunting, and we are interested in the similarities and differences in how turkeys operate in an urban, non-hunting environment compared to the more usual rural, agricultural, hunted environment.”

The first task was to solicit “volunteers.” To this end, turkeys were encouraged to visit a 40-foot by 60-foot drop-net with a bait pile of cracked corn placed directly under it which was set up behind the Arboretum’s storage and equipment garages.

The net was monitored by staff at the wildlife ecology department, and eventually two turkeys walked underneath it. It dropped via remote control and the turkeys were trapped.

Soon Cary, along with wildlife technicians Mike Watt and Dan Jones arrived to calm the birds (using blankets and socks) and safely remove them from the net. “The blanket and socks calm the bird by reducing the levels of stimulation they are experiencing while we subdue them,” Cary explains. “The way they are subdued has been carefully worked out to promote the safety of the bird as we attach a radio to it and the time they are handled and subdued is minimal.”

A lightweight radio collar was attached around the neck of each bird and an I.D. tag was placed on their left leg.

The class will share its data with the Arboretum and it may become the basis of a larger study in the future to determine the turkeys’ territory and estimate populations says Arboretum Ecologist Brad Herrick. Any information generated may possibly prove relevant to understanding how the increasing turkey population in the Arboretum and throughout Madison may have to be managed.

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.