As many of us in the America prepare to eat turkey, let’s take a look at what wild turkeys eat. The list might surprise you, and their dietary choices may help us figure out what the future holds for wild turkeys.
Like that certain uncle at your holiday dinner, wild turkeys will eat just about anything that fits into their mouths! They are the quintessential omnivores. Acorns and azalea galls, bluegills and blueberries, crabgrass and caterpillars … they all go right down the hatch. Prickly pear and panic grass, toothwort and tadpoles, grasshoppers and grapes, pecans and pawpaws, sedges and even snakes!
Depending on the plant's species and time of year, turkeys will eat roots, bulbs, stems, buds, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds.
In search of protein, they move about the woods like a pack of velociraptors, thrashing up the leaf litter and eating anything that moves. Their quarry includes all manner of insects as well as salamanders, lizards, and frogs.
From the treetops to the ground and across forests, fields and suburban yards, turkeys make use of every inch of habitat available to them. They are even known to venture into the water to eat aquatic plants, fish, and crayfish.
The return of the wild turkey is a triumph of wildlife management. Careful regulation of hunting combined with reintroductions has produced a thriving turkey flock that nearly matches the population that existed before North America was colonized. But credit must also be given to the turkey itself. Thanks to their dietary versatility, turkeys can thrive almost anywhere. Wet or dry, high or low, hot or cold, turkeys can make any habitat work. They only require some trees for roosting at night.
Wild turkey populations continue to grow. Across the U.S., the population is increasing by an average of 9 percent each year, according to the Breeding Bird Survey.
So, enjoy your turkey day! Happy Thanksgiving, Birders!
References: Smith, Joe. (2016) The Nature Conservancy. Nature.org.