Turkey Management: Habitat, Food Plots & More

All wild turkeys are non-migratory resident species, so habitat management practices on a property greatly improve the area for turkeys. Wild turkeys do have large home ranges that change with the season of the year, but they seek out high quality habitat that provides the food, cover and water that they require. Turkeys tend to be widely dispersed during the spring and summer nesting and brood-rearing periods. Nesting and brood-rearing habitat is similar to that required for bobwhite quail, but on a larger scale: scattered thickets of low growing brush, patchy residual herbaceous vegetation, and a moderately grazed, diverse grass/forb plant community that produces seeds and insects.

After the breeding, nesting and brood-rearing seasons, numerous smaller flocks that were widely dispersed during the summer tend to congregate into large winter flocks. The ranges of winter flocks are centered around riparian areas (the floodplains of large creeks and rivers) that have moderately dense stands of tall, full canopied trees. These winter flocks will disperse several miles from their riparian area roost sites on daily feeding forays. Turkeys are attracted to feeders and supplemental food plantings provided for deer and quail. The nearness of a ranch to a winter roost site(s), and the availability of a food source, would determine to what extent turkeys are present during the winter months.

Habitat management for the wild turkey should focus on the availability of food, cover, water and some amount of space. The distribution of these key components of the range is of major importance. Water must be distributed throughout the area. Drinking water should be readily accessible at windmills or stock tanks for adults, as well as poults. Food availability of the native range can be increased by the following activities: (1) Moderately stock the range with domestic animals. (2) Utilize a deferred rotation system of grazing. (3) Control total white-tailed deer numbers by harvesting does. (4) Prescribed burns can be utilized to control regrowth cedar as well as increase production of forbs, grasses and fruit or mast producing browse plants. In short, range management activities that increase the diversity of grasses, forbs, shrubs, trees, and vines improves the habitat for the wild turkey.

Preservation of roosting sites is a key factor to maintain a turkey population on a sustained basis. Turkeys also need escape cover to travel to and from roosting sites. Preferred species of trees utilized as roosting sites include pecan, cypress, sycamore, live oak, elm, hackberry, western soapberry, and large mesquite, but this will vary by area. Dense brush thickets or solid block clearing both furnish poor habitat for the turkey. Brush clearing programs that leave brush strips between cleared areas are advantageous. Avoid removing hardwood trees such as the various species of oaks, hackberry, elm, or large mesquite. If clearing is needed to improve the range, irregular shaped cleared strips that follow topography are best.

Feeding high protein pelleted feed from January through March will help increase winter survival. Supplemental feeding will also increase the reproductive potential of nesting hens. Turkeys will readily use fall food plots for white-tailed deer that consist of oats, wheat and other cereal grain and forb species. Winter and spring food plots can also be established just for turkeys, but make sure that other animals, domestic or wild, do not have a negative impact on the site.

With regard to turkey harvest, approximately 15-20 percent of the estimated turkey population can be harvested annually. Adjustments in the harvest can be made on an annual basis based on the year’s surveys and estimated poult production. These adjustments to harvest will depend upon habitat conditions and the nest success, though annual surveys may show increases and decreases in the turkey population based on animals moving into or out of the local turkey population.

Managing for wildlife and habitat