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WILD Facts: When cranes call
If you hear a chorus of trumpeting rattles high overhead, try to find a flock of migrating sandhill cranes nearby. You may see dozens or even hundreds of these long-necked, long-legged, gray birds heading toward breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada.
Despite their large size and loud calls, spotting sandhill cranes in flight can be difficult. They typically migrate thousands of feet high, riding thermals to gain altitude. But their prehistoric sounds can be heard from a mile away.
According to fossil records, the sandhill crane is the oldest known bird species alive.
WILD Facts is a regular feature written by Linda May, a wildlife interpretive specialist with the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division.

Statewide turkey hunting season opens this month
SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Turkey hunters across the state are dusting off their calls in preparation for another season. Opening day is March 22, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division anticipates another enjoyable season.
According to WRD Wild Turkey Project Coordinator Chris Baumann, Georgia's current turkey population is estimated at 300,000 birds. While the 2008 season should be respectable, the harvest levels are expected to decrease in comparison with past years. A variety of factors affecting the wild turkey population and wild turkey habitat account for this, including consistently low reproduction for the past few years, recent statewide extreme weather and considerable habitat loss and alteration in many areas.
Statistics from the 2007 season harvest summary indicate that an estimated 48,459 resident Georgia hunters bagged some 23,655 turkeys last year. The bird to hunter ratio for 2007 -- .49 birds per hunter -- was down by 22 percent from 2006. Georgia turkey hunters, privileged with one of the longest turkey seasons nationwide, have nearly two months to bag themselves a bird or two. With a bag limit of three gobblers per season, hunters have from March 22 through May 15 to get birds. Because most hunters pursue wild turkeys on private lands, WRD reminds hunters to always obtain landowner permission before hunting.

Turkey hunters encouraged using safety first
SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Successful hunting trips require a combination of skill, patience and, most importantly, preparation.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division is concentrating on preparations, encouraging hunters to brush up on important turkey hunting safety tips before hitting the woods.
WRD Hunter Education Coordinator Capt. James Bell offers tips.
"Hunters should always be sure to identify their target before pulling the trigger and should never shoot at sound or movement," Bell said. "Turkey hunters have to utilize their firearms safety knowledge and remember ways to keep themselves and others safe while in the woods."
Hunters are encouraged to review the following turkey hunting season safety precautions before the season opens on March 22:
• Never wear red, white, blue or black clothing while turkey hunting. Red is the color most hunters look for when distinguishing a gobbler's head from a hen's blue-colored head, but at times it may appear white or blue. Male turkey feathers covering most of the body are black in appearance. Camouflage should be used to cover everything, including the hunter's face, hands and firearm.
• Select a calling position that provides at least a shoulder-width background, such as the base of a tree. Be sure that at least a 180-degree range is visible.
• Do not stalk a gobbling turkey. Due to their keen eyesight and hearing, the chances of getting close are slim to none, but a hunter in motion greatly increases his/her chances of being mistaken for game.
• Be careful using a turkey call. The sound and motion may attract other hunters. Do not move, wave or make turkey-like sounds to alert another hunter to your presence. Instead, yell in a loud voice so other hunters know you are in the area.
• Be careful when carrying a harvested turkey from the woods. Do not allow the wings to hang loosely or the head to be displayed in such a way that another hunter may think it is a live bird. If possible, conceal the turkey in a blaze orange garment or other material.
Although it's not required, it is suggested that hunters wear blaze orange when moving to and from their vehicle and hunting site. When moving between hunting sites, hunters should wear blaze orange on their upper bodies to lessen chances of being mistaken for game.
Wild turkey hunters must possess a valid hunting license and a big game license to legally hunt turkeys in Georgia. If hunting on a wildlife management area, hunters should also possess a WMA license. Sportsmen and women should always obtain permission from the landowner before hunting on private land.  Only male turkeys may be harvested and the season bag limit is three gobblers per hunter.  
For additional turkey hunting information or turkey hunting safety tips, visit , contact the nearest WRD law enforcement office or call (770) 784-3068.

Celebrate Fitzgerald's annual Wild Chicken Festival
A continuing success since its conversion from a rattlesnake roundup

FITZGERALD- The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division, in partnership with local organizers and community leaders, announces the upcoming annual Fitzgerald Wild Chicken Festival. The celebration began as an annual Rattlesnake Roundup but was converted by progressive organizers in 2000 to a festival that honors the town's unique resident wild Burmese chicken population.
Scheduled for March 14-15 in the heart of historic downtown Fitzgerald, the festival will attract thousands of participants who will enjoy a variety of good food, arts, crafts, and other activities and attractions amid beautiful blooming azaleas and newly hatched wild Burmese chickens.
For 28 years the festival had been known as "The Rattlesnake Roundup" where people came to see many eastern diamondback rattlesnakes collected by snake hunters. However, due to declining diamondback populations and the highly destructive collecting technique of gassing gopher tortoise burrows, organizers decided the responsible course of action would be to change the focus of the event and rename it the Wild Chicken Festival.
The 2008 Fitzgerald Wild Chicken Festival will feature something for everyone, including food vendors, arts and crafts attractions, rock wall and bungee jumps, pony rides, face painting, pancake breakfast, a hot-wing eating contest, a wild chicken crowing contest, the Chicken Sprint 5K, Cub Scout Pine Wood Derby, Lovem' or Hatem' Chicken Vote and Pet Adoptathon, and even festival clown entertainment for the children. Music entertainment will feature Danny Stone, Todd Lambers, Pop Shop, Okefenokee Joe and community Street Dance.
Admission to the festival is free (additional activity fees may apply).
For more information, call (800) 386-4642 or visit the festival Web site

Gray' Reef National Marine Sanctuary Opens Public Comment Period on Proposed Research Area within the Sanctuary

The public comment period on the proposal to establish a research area within Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is now open and will remain open until April 21.
If established, a research area would be a smaller area within the existing boundaries of the sanctuary.  The sanctuary's Management Plan, finalized in 2006, included the concept of a research area. The concept of a research area was first introduced in 1999 as part of the early stages of the Management Plan review process.  
The size and shape of a research area will be determined through a public process where all constituents of the sanctuary are encouraged to participate and offer their views. However an overriding sanctuary goal is that the research area be created in such a way as to best replicate the entire sanctuary habitats in a smaller area to make sure that it is representative of the sanctuary as a whole.
Full details about the Research Area proposal and the on-going public process can be found on the Sanctuary's website at
The public can send in comments via a special email address at: or by fax at 912 598 2367 or by mail to 10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, Ga 31411 or by attending one of five scheduled public meetings. Details about the meetings can be found at:
For more information, contact Becky Shortland at 912 598 2381 or Gail Krueger at 912 598 2397

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