Nesting Habitat Use and Selection by Wild Turkey

Habitat selection for wild turkey hens has been well documented, but the effects of microhabitat conditions on the selection processes prior to and during incubation have not been adequately quantified for optimal turkey management, despite the importance of this information. In one study conducted in Mississippi, pre-nesting hens selected forested areas with herbaceous understories and mostly nested within pre-nesting home ranges. But from reading most articles that discuss nest site selection by turkey hens, these sites selected and the habitat used are as described in the literature.

Wild turkey prefer to nest under trees, but in and around herbaceous vegetation that consists of grasses and even brush. Most of the time, turkey hens will build a nest at the base of a tree, thus limiting the area in which predators can sneak up on the laying or incubating hen. Turkey nests are not well built, but are best described as a shallow depression in leaf litter or ground. Turkey prefer overhead plant structure, probably to hide from aerial predators and reduce heat from the sun.

As important as nesting success is to turkey management, little research has focused on examing habitat selection during pre-nesting and nesting periods. In addition, there has been very little comparison of nesting habitat selection by turkey hens during the nesting season. Habitat selection by wild turkey hens during the pre-nesting and nesting periods may influence reproductive success. In short, whether or not a turkey hen can select a good nest site may determine if her nest is successful.

Recent declines in wild turkey populations in some areas and concerns over low reproductive success warrant additional research that examines habitat selection by hens just before an during the nesting season. Additional turkey nesting research should focus on examining and quantifying habitat variables of nest sites and comparing habitat variables at pre-nesting and nesting sites to random locations for nesting wild turkey. It would stand to reason that turkey hens have the ability to select successful nest sites. However, if the habitats that provide the highest nest success rates are in short supply or unavailable, then managers can take the necessary steps to enhance or maintain critical habitat.

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Turkey Hunting and Management