Wild turkey can thrive in a variety of plant communities but there are certain habitat requirements that must be met. Managing for turkeys means making sure these “limiting factors” are present on your property and available in sufficient quantities. As with any type of wildlife, turkeys need the right balance of food, water, shelter, and cover to be successful in an area.
Wild turkeys have separate habitat requirements for breeding and nesting, brood rearing, and winter roosting locations. Good turkey habitat contains a mix of each of these habitat types, in addition to other habitat components, such as water and food. But first and foremost, in order to have a sustainable turkey population, an area must provide the quantity and quality of breeding and nesting habitat that turkey desire.
Breeding and nesting with turkeys occurs during the spring months. Most hunters are fully aware of how exciting turkey hunting can be in the spring, especially when it’s timed just right. For mating, wild turkeys require open areas of primarily grasses and other herbaceous vegetation typically four to eight inches tall. These open areas must be near brushy areas to provide cover from predators. Open pastures/rangeland that are mowed or lightly grazed during the winter months could provide suitable habitat for mating in the spring.
Turkeys nest on the ground throughout the spring. Nests are usually placed in brushy areas near mating habitat with moderately tall grass. Brush piles or small clumps of brush and trees within pastures that are not mowed can provide the necessary cover that female turkeys require for nesting. The tender, green shoots of grasses and other herbaceous plants make up a large part of the turkey’s diet in the spring months.
Mowing grasslands during the the late winter can also help generate new plant growth in open areas. This new-growth vegetation is perfect for turkey and they will make good use of it. If your property has open areas that you would like to manage as breeding and nesting habitat for wild turkeys, consider the following turkey habitat management practices:
1. Mow open areas in the winter months, from December through February. Keep the mower blade set as high as possible to leave some cover on the ground to help prevent erosion.
2. Plant forage and seed-producing food plots for wild turkey. Plots are great in that they attract birds because of either the stuff that’s planted in them or because of the forbs and diversity that results from soil disturbance. Food plots are good for strutting gobblers and as bugging areas for growing poults.
3. Leave patches of herbaceous vegetation (grass & forbs), particularly around the edge of pastures and around trees and brush, to provide places for turkeys to nest and hide from predators. Turkeys will often nest at the base of a tree or large shrub/brush.
4. Create brush piles or plant clumps of trees in large pastures to provide more habitat diversity and extra escape cover for turkeys. Consider placing brush and trees along fence lines, drainages, or other places where turkeys regularly travel. Brush, whether live or dead, provides additional screening cover and potential nesting sites.