Friday, November 18, 2011

Eastern Wild Turkeys: habitat basics

The wild turkey has made an amazing comeback in the United States. This wary game bird is a favorite of many hunters and wildlife watchers alike, and it’s doing well. Five wild turkey subspecies are found in the U.S. They include the Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Florida and Gould’s wild turkey. Their habitats change with available plants in their region of the country, but are similar. Here’s what the Eastern wild turkey likes.

Food preferences. The diet is more than 80 percent plant food, with 10 to 20 percent primarily insects. Young poults eat insects, berries and seeds, while adults will eat anything from acorns and berries to insects, salamanders, snails and small reptiles. Fruits of wild grape, dogwood and wild cherry are favorites. Turkeys also eat numerous seeds, including those of native grasses, sedges, trees and ferns.
Water. A source of open water is necessary to support a wild turkey population. They drink from spring seeps, streams, ponds, lakes and livestock watering facilities. It’s critical to have water as well as foraging, nesting, brood rearing and roosting cover all available near each other to support populations.
Nesting cover. Eastern wild turkeys nest on the ground in hardwood or mixed forest, usually at the base of sizable trees in dense understory cover. They may also nest under a brush pile, in thickets or under downed trees and branches. Preferred nest sites are near openings or on forest edges where newly hatched poults have access to insects after hatching.
Roosting cover. Wild turkeys roost overnight in trees to avoid predators. The exception is for hens with up to one-month old poults-- they roost on the ground in habitat similar to nesting habitat. Ideal roosting trees are mature, open-crowned trees with branches spaced 18 inches apart that run parallel to the ground, with trunk diameters at least 14 inches, locating within a half mile of a food source.
Brood rearing cover. Wild turkeys like open areas of grass, forb and legume mixtures for feeding. A forest opening of a half to three acres is a good siz, where poults can eat insects but also see and hide from predators.

Did you
In the early
1930s the wildturkey was on
the verge of extinction. But
today, thanks to wildlife
restoration programs and
willing landowners, the wild
turkey is abundant and thriving.
It’s found in every state
except Alaska.

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