Wheat seeds that tested positive for insecticides are being blamed for the mysterious deaths of 15 wild turkey hens found in Tallahatchie County, state wildlife officials said Monday.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP), the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife, Disease Study (SCWDS) worked together to find the cause of death for the birds found by a landowner. 

Conservation officer Dale Adams collected the specimens for testing.

“We receive diseased turkey reports occasionally, but this case was unusual in that this entire flock had appeared to die together,” said Adam Butler, the MDWFP wild turkey program coordinator.

Butler immediately conferred with the Mississippi State University’s Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, where necropsies were performed on the specimens. Each turkey had crops filled with wheat seed, along with vascular and pulmonary congestion. 

“These birds showed no sign of any external abnormalities, and appeared to be in good physical condition before they died,” Butler said. “That, in conjunction with the wheat in their crops and findings of internal hemorrhaging, made us immediately suspect poisoning.” 

Wheat seeds from the crops of the turkeys were sent for testing by SCWDS, which subsequently confirmed that the wheat seed had been treated with insecticides.

Seeds treated with organophosphates for pest control purposes can be harmful to a host of animals, including wild turkey.

According to the MDWFP, treated seeds are usually labeled “to be covered” by a layer of soil when planted and should not be used as wildlife feed. The MDWFP rarely recommends direct feeding of wildlife as a management practice. 

“There’s no legitimate reason to directly feed anything to wild turkeys,” Butler said. “Follow the supplemental feeding law and use common sense. Definitely, always avoid placing a potentially harmful food source like treated seed on top of the ground where turkeys or other birds can find it.”