If a landowner wishes to manage for any game or non-game wildlife species, the first thing to realize is that every animal requires food, cover, water, and space. Managing all these components creates a recipe for success, and wild turkey management is no different. All species of wild turkey are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. Turkeys prefer eating hard mast (such as acorns) from various trees including hazel, chestnut, hickory, oak, and pinyon pine, as well as various seeds and berries (such as juniper and bearberry), plant roots, and insects.
Turkeys are very opportunistic and also known to occasionally consume small vertebrates like snakes, frogs, lizards, and salamanders. Young turkeys, or poults, have been observed eating insects, berries, and seeds. Poults require a protein-rich diet which can be obtained my consuming invertabrates such as grasshoppers, crickets, and other grassland invertebrates. Wild turkeys often feed in forest openings, woodlands, open grasslands, and even native and improved pastures. In urban or suburban areas, turkeys will sometimes visit backyard bird feeders to search for seed that has fallen on the ground. Although turkey are very wary, they can adapt to human encroachment in some cases.
Turkeys are known to eat a wide variety of grasses. In fact, around 80% of a turkey’s diet is made up of grass! Turkey enjoy small, tender native grasses and also commercially grown plants such as oats, wheat, and rye. Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food. This can pose serious crop depradation issues for farmers in areas where wild turkey populations flourish. Wild turkey are crepuscular, meaning they enjoy feed during early morning and late afternoon.
Because turkeys feed on a variety of foods, habitat diversity is a key component for an effective turkey management program. Ensure that the habitat found on your property includes areas where turkey can feed on mast, forbs, grasses, and insects. Turkey food habits vary by age and by season.