Graduate student examines wild turkeys for signs of contamination


Graduate student examines wild turkeys for signs of contamination

Cody Tisdale holding an adult male turkey, known as a tom, after placing a remote tracker on the bird. Credit: Lexington Belyeu.

Meet Cody Tisdale, a graduate student at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Although pig and lamb are the focus of spring palates, Tisdale has his sights on turkeys this season.

Aware that turkey hunting season is about to begin in Georgia and South Carolina, he’s seeking samples of turkey breast and leg muscles as well as liver tissue for his graduate research project.

In pursuit of a master’s degree in wildlife ecology, Tisdale is conducting research on male turkeys on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina. He’s examining the turkeys to determine if they have higher levels of contaminants, like arsenic and selenium, than turkeys that are found off the SRS.

Tisdale said turkeys can be exposed to contaminants when they eat plants and insects in contaminated areas.

“Although given their trophic position and feeding behavior, we don’t anticipate finding high levels of contaminants in turkeys on the SRS,” Tisdale said. “I expect contaminant levels in turkeys collected on the SRS to be similar to those collected off site.”

According to Tisdale, preliminary research data indicates low levels of contaminants in the birds.

He said wild turkeys were rare when the site was established in 1951 because of habitat loss and overhunting. Tisdale said the population increased significantly after the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources reintroduced the species on the site in the 1970s.

With assistance from hunters in the community, Tisdale will be able to accurately assess the levels of contamination in the current wild turkeys on the site.

Hunters who are interested in donating turkey samples to Tisdale’s research should refrigerate the samples immediately after skinning the birds. All samples should be approximately 2x2x1- inch chunks. They need to be picked up within one to three days after they are harvested. Tisdale is available to pick up the samples. He can be reached by email at