Turkey Foods

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Over the years, biologists have studied thousands of turkey crops, gizzards and droppings and determined the big birds are opportunistic omnivores. That is, turkeys will eat virtually any species of plant or small animal they run across!

It is interesting to note that poults are predators when they peck from their eggshells. Tiny turkeys devour flies, moths, beetles, locusts, grasshoppers and other insects, which are high in protein and help them grow rapidly. Poults supplement their diet with seeds, leaves, stems and other plant matter.

As turkeys grow their dependence on insects subsides. In fact, once poults are about a month old, they switch mainly to a diet of plants. Juvenile and adult turkeys feed heavily on hard mast (acorns, beechnuts, etc.), soft mast (grapes, berries and the like), seeds, sedges, forbs, leaves, buds, green shoots and many other types of plants. They go to agricultural fields and food plots to glean corn, wheat, oats, clover, rye and other grains and grasses. The birds supplement their diet with insects, snails, grubs, worms, salamanders, spiders and other small animals.

Turkeys get their smorgasbord of food in several ways. They peck seeds, berries, acorns and other plant matter off the ground. They nab grasshoppers and insects out of the air. They rake through leaves and duff with their big feet, scratching to expose mast and small animals and then pecking the foods. Turkeys also fly into treetops to glean buds and catkins, especially in winter when food sources are limited.

Flock Movement

While turkeys will eat all kinds of stuff, the availability and abundance of preferred foods can determine the travel patterns of flocks. This is most evident in autumn, when turkeys depend heavily on mast crops. In a good mast year when acorns, beechnuts, dogwood berries and other fruits are everywhere, turkeys hang in the woods and generally don’t move very far from one food source to the next. But during a lean autumn when mast is scarce, turkeys must travel long distances to find pockets of productive nuts or berries. Also, when mast is scarce flocks leave the woods and move out into farmlands where row crops grow.

Water Needs

Eastern and Osceola habitats are laced with rivers, streams, ponds, springs and swamps. But biologists have found that except during drought times, turkeys rarely seek out or congregate around water sources. Hens, gobblers and poults can get their daily supplement of water from sipping grass dew and eating succulent plants, fruits and animals. Turkeys also drink rainwater from puddles.

Out in the arid West water sources are more important to turkeys. Merriam’s and Rio Grande birds often flock around creeks, stock tanks, etc. Hens sometimes nest near water sources with toms strutting and gobbling nearby.

Preffered Foods

Eastern and Osceola habitats are laced with rivers, streams, ponds, springs and swamps. But biologists have found that except during drought times, turkeys rarely seek out or congregate around water sources. Hens, gobblers and poults can get their daily supplement of water from sipping grass dew and eating succulent plants, fruits and animals. Turkeys also drink rainwater from puddles.











Preferred Foods of the Eastern Turkey
Spring and Summer Fall and Winter
Many types of grasses and seeds, sedges, leftover acorns and beechnuts, leftover grains, chufa, clover, many types of berries, insects, small animals Red and white oak acorns, pecans, beechnuts, grapes, cherries, dogwood, many grasses and seeds, sedges, sumac berries, insects, small animals, ferns, hardwood buds and stems, pine seeds











Preferred Foods of the Osceola Turkey
Spring and Summer Fall and Winter
Leftover acorns and grains, many grasses and green vegetation, seeds, grasshoppers and other insects, small animals Acorns, pine seeds, cabbage palm, black gum, grasses, corn, wax myrtle, gall berry, insects, small animals











Preferred Foods of the Gould’s Turkey
Spring and Summer Fall and Winter
Juniper berries, forbs, many grasses and seeds, insects, small animals Acorns and other mast, grass and pine seeds, cherry, blackberry, crops, insects and small animals, juniper and manzanita berries











Preferred Foods of the Merriam’s Turkey
Spring and Summer Fall and Winter
Many grasses and seeds, wild flowers, manzanita berries, oats, mulberry, grasshoppers and other insects, small animals Acorns, pinion nuts, juniper berries, prickly pear and pine seeds, grasshoppers and other insects, snails and other small animals











Preferred Foods of the Merriam’s Turkey
Spring and Summer Fall and Winter
Many green plants, flowers, sorghum, prickly pear, many grass seeds, insects, snails and other small animals Acorns, pecans, wheat and other grains, ironwood berries, prickly pear seeds, many grasses, insects, snails and other small animals



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