What Do Turkeys Eat?

Turkeys are common guests on the dinner table, particularly for holiday meals such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, but what would wild turkeys eat if they could plan the menu? Learning about turkeys‘ preferred foods can help birders better understand these birds’ foraging habits and where to find turkeys throughout the year when different food sources are available.

In captivity or in agricultural settings, domestic turkeyswhich are the same genetic species as wild turkeysare often fed a special commercial feed formulated for game birds, turkeys, or poultry. Some farmers, however, focus on heritage turkey breeds and offer a more natural diet for the birds to eat, including allowing them to forage freely through pastures and fields.

In spring, they eat more fresh buds, grasses, and similar plant material, while insects and berries are more popular fare in summer. For the first month of the birds’ lives, they eat a much higher percentage of insects, mollusks, reptiles, or other meat to get the protein essential for healthy growth. Turkey scratching can damage turf or delicate landscaped beds, however, so plan a feeding area in a spot you don’t mind getting torn up or trampled.

Minimize or eliminate herbicides and insecticides that could contaminate foods wild turkeys eat, particularly during the summer when young birds are more susceptible to toxic chemicals.

What is the best thing to feed wild turkeys?

Plant Native Oaks: Acorns are a key food source for wild turkeys. ….Plant Other Nut and Berry-Producing Plants: In addition to oak acorns, other staples of the wild turkey diet include beech nuts, pecans, hickory nuts, crabapples, and hackberries.

Do turkeys eat apples?

Turkeys love fruits such as apples and grapes. You can treat your turkeys to fruits but remember to give them foods rich in proteins and other nutrients as well.

How do I attract wild turkeys to my property?

Wild turkeys can be provide quite a fascinating addition to your yard. Providing acorns in plenty as well as berries and seeds will fill their stomachs and attract them in large flocks. Plant oak and pine trees beside clearings will give them the perfect habitat to live and breed their young.

There are plenty of things that we know and love about wild turkeys, but we always seem to want to learn more. From the first time that we saw one of these big, struttin’ birds up close we were excited and intrigued. The more facts we know, the more interested we become.

Like most birds, they swallow small pebbles to form grit into their crops, which helps break down and digest the plant material they eat. In harder times they will eat hemlock buds, ferns, club mosses, and burdock to sustain themselves, sometimes even digging up the bulbs of plants.

Turkeys will also eat the waste grain found in most farming communities just like deer and other wild animals. Gobblers tend to be the largest members of the group, and their proud strutting display during the spring breeding season sets them apart from the rest. They tend to have an unfeathered red, white, and blue head with the colors intensifying as a male turkey gets excited.

When Tom turkeys vie for hens in the spring they can and will fight each other viciously, often kicking in an attempt to injure their rivals with the spurs that stick out from their lower legs. Many wildlife management departments across the nation list licenses as being for “one bearded turkey for legal harvest” because of this scenario. Juvenile wild turkeys can leave the nest almost immediately upon hatching, but the hens still care for the young into at least their first autumn.

The young birds will follow their mother and learn to scratch the ground in search of easy-to-procure insects, buds, and seeds. Because they seek out a roost in the tops of favored trees each night, turkeys can be patterned to distinguish their whereabouts the next day.

The wild turkey is one of the most recognizable birds in all of North America and a symbol of the holiday season. As these fascinating and adaptable birds are becoming increasingly common backyard visitors and popular birdwatching subjects, you can turn your own yard or garden into a natural buffet to support them.

About ten percent of an adult wild turkeys diet consists of small animals, including insects such as stink bugs, grasshoppers, and ground beetles, as well as snails, slugs, worms, spiders and other invertebrates. Turkey chicks, called poults, begin foraging shortly after hatching for invertebrates, which make up a large portion of their diet as they grow.

In the wild, turkeys thrive in mature forests with abundant trees, and their diet changes with the season. In the spring, they will eat most leaves, buds, and grasses or whatever other plant material that they can find. In the fall, they prefer fruits, berries, seeds, and insects as they become available.

So, if deforestation has caused mature forests to become unavailable, these turkeys will flee to agricultural lands and eat whatever is available there. In swampy areas, turkeys may eat more plant matter and snack on reptiles, frogs, and salamanders.

In the spring, turkeys tend to forage on tender plant matter, like buds, leaves, and grasses. If snow cover makes foraging difficult, they will eat pine needles, buds, ferns, lichens, and moss. Hens will often lead their broods to areas with more insects, as they provide protein for the birds development and are a steady source of food.

Hens incubating eggs typically sit on them for much of the time, only taking short breaks to eat and drink.

How They Eat

Wild turkeys are opportunistically omnivorous, which means they will readily sample a wide range of foods, both animal and vegetable. They forage frequently and will eat many different things, including:In captivity or in agricultural settings, domestic turkeys—which are the same genetic species as wild turkeys—are often fed a special commercial feed formulated for game birds, turkeys, or poultry. These commercial feeds typically contain a mix of material to simulate these birds’ highly varied diets. Many turkey farmers also supplement their flock’s feeding with additional corn, grain, or other foods. The diet of domestic turkeys is often formulated to encourage heavier birds and faster growth to increase commercial profits. Some farmers, however, focus on heritage turkey breeds and offer a more natural diet for the birds to eat, including allowing them to forage freely through pastures and fields.

What Do Wild Turkeys Eat?

The list is long and varied, but turkeys are known to feed hardily on many natural food sources, a few of which may seem hard to believe.They will dig amongst the leaf litter for nuts such as acorns and beechnuts, but also indulge in hickory nuts, pecans, and walnuts. Sometimes they’re able to swallow them whole, other times they eat them after they’ve cracked open.Berries, crabapples, wild grapes, and other fruits small enough in size and grown low enough to the ground are also enjoyed by turkeys in the wild.Turkeys will also eat small invertebrates like caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, worms, slugs, and snails. Occasionally, and when found in abundance among their wildlife habitat, turkeys have been known to eat small reptiles and amphibians such as snakes, salamanders, and lizards.Like most birds, they swallow small pebbles to form grit into their crops, which helps break down and digest the plant material they eat.In harder times they will eat hemlock buds, ferns, club mosses, and burdock to sustain themselves, sometimes even digging up the bulbs of plants. Since wild turkeys can be considered backyard birds, it is not unusual to find them at bird feeders pecking away at birdseed including millet and cracked corn.Turkeys will also eat the waste grain found in most farming communities just like deer and other wild animals. This quality forage provided by human activity has become a favorite among many wild turkeys.

More Gobbler Facts

The male turkey (or Tom) is the dominant member of the flock most of the year, especially in the spring. Gobblers tend to be the largest members of the group, and their proud strutting display during the spring breeding season sets them apart from the rest.Probably their most prominent feature is their throaty, jumbled call affectionately known as the gobble. Hunters often employ the “shock gobble” response to locate turkeys, in which they use a crow call, owl call, or other loud and abrupt sound the startle a Tom and entice him to gobble loudly.They tend to have an unfeathered red, white, and blue head with the colors intensifying as a male turkey gets excited. A mostly red-colored head on a strutting Tom indicates fear or submission, while the contrast of a red head on a non-strutting Tom shows the bird is feeling confident or aggressive.When Tom turkeys vie for hens in the spring they can and will fight each other viciously, often kicking in an attempt to injure their rivals with the spurs that stick out from their lower legs.

Hen Turkeys

The moms of the turkey world, hens build a next on the ground where they can lay anywhere from 10-15 eggs in the spring.During the fall, the motherly instinct takes on a new form as one hen usually takes charge of a flock. They lead them about for feeding and roosting purposes, emitting a very unique “kee-kee-run” call to gather them all.Hens too can have a beard, although it is much less common. Many wildlife management departments across the nation list licenses as being for “one bearded turkey for legal harvest” because of this scenario.

Other Wild Turkey Behavior

Juvenile wild turkeys can leave the nest almost immediately upon hatching, but the hens still care for the young into at least their first autumn.While all adult wild turkeys seek out an elevated roost to sleep on each night, the youngest turkeys must remain covered and quiet on the ground.The young birds will follow their mother and learn to scratch the ground in search of easy-to-procure insects, buds, and seeds.

What Affects a Turkey’s Diet?

Many things can affect a wild turkey’s diet. They are not picky birds, so a single turkey’s diet may vary from day to day. They are extremely opportunistic, which means they tend to eat things as they find them. They don’t necessarily go looking for something in particular.

Location

Turkeys usually live in mature forests, but these forests can vary depending on the region. The exact nuts, fruits, bugs, and plant matter found in a forest will depend on the type of forest that it is.Turkeys also live outside of mature forests. In agricultural areas, much of their diet may be the available grains and crops being grown. Turkeys will make do with what they have. So, if deforestation has caused mature forests to become unavailable, these turkeys will flee to agricultural lands and eat whatever is available there.Turkeys that live in drier areas may eat lizards and similar small animals. Cacti and seeds may become more popular, as will any available insects. In swampy areas, turkeys may eat more plant matter and snack on reptiles, frogs, and salamanders.

Season

In different seasons, different foods are available. In the spring, turkeys tend to forage on tender plant matter, like buds, leaves, and grasses. They will also find leftover nuts. During summertime, insects will be more plentiful and will make up most of a turkey’s diet. They may eat berries as those come in the season as well. During the winter and fall, turkeys will eat fruits, grains, and seeds. If snow cover makes foraging difficult, they will eat pine needles, buds, ferns, lichens, and moss.

Age

Poults need more food than adults. They will spend most of their time eating. This makes their diet more varied than adults. Hens will often lead their broods to areas with more insects, as they provide protein for the birds’ development and are a steady source of food.Adults will eat mostly plant matter, though they may eat bugs if those become abundant.

When Do Turkeys Eat?

Turkeys tend to eat opportunistically throughout the day. They will simply wander around and eat things as they find them. Much of their day is spent looking for food, stripping seeds, and chasing insects. If they find something edible, they will find a way to eat it.Most of their feeding will be done in the evening and morning, though. Many animals are less active during the hottest part of the day, so they will seek out less food during this time.There are certain occasions when turkeys will fast. Hens incubating eggs typically sit on them for much of the time, only taking short breaks to eat and drink. Gobblers will only eat sporadically during the spring months, as much of their attention will be focused on mating.

Do Turkeys Eat Different Food Than Chickens?

Turkeys and chickens have different nutritional requirements, so they cannot eat the same foods. This is especially true for the younger animals. Turkeys need more protein because they grow faster than chickens. In captivity, it is best to keep them apart to ensure that each species is given appropriate food.Turkeys are not just bigger chickens, so you cannot simply give them chicken feed. In captivity, it is best to provide turkeys with plenty of room to free-range because this is the easiest way to ensure a diverse, appropriate diet. You will often need 1/2 acre for every 12 birds. There are also commercial turkey feeds available. Be sure that whatever you choose is high in protein.