Turkey roosts that provide flock security are an absolute must for local turkey populations. Because of the importance of roosts, any landowner with even the hope of a successful turkey management program must ensure that quality roost sites are protected, enhanced, or at least maintained. In short, roost sites sites are critical habitat for all species of wild turkey. With this fact in mind, here is more information about turkeys and their roost sites.
So why do turkey require good roosting sites? Well, turkeys make use of tall trees to increase the distance between ground-dwelling predators and themselves. Not only does sleeping in trees get turkey off the ground and away from predators, but roosting turkeys also have a great line of sight to detect approaching predators. And although tall trees are must for turkey populations, turkeys are not selective with regard to specific tree species. Turkeys look more at tree height and structure than any other factors. The only time turkeys will not roost in trees is when hens begin ground roosting once incubation has initiated. However, they will once again use roosts that are close to brood-rearing areas once poults are capable of flying.
Research has found that the number of suitable roosting limbs on a tree may be a function of the diameter of the tree. And if you think about this, it makes sense. The greater the diameter, or girth, of a tree, the taller the tree is likely to be–and the more suitable limbs it will have for roosting sites. Trees with larger diameters have larger, flatter limbs that can support roosting wild turkeys.
Depending upon the turkey species, turkey will use different roost at different times of the year. Rio Grande Turkey, for example, have summer roosts and winter roosts. This species will congregate in large numbers at winter roost sites, which are typically found along large streams, adjacent rivers, or in large valleys. However, as nesting season approaches during the spring, birds using the large communal winter roost site will spread out and use summer roost sites. Some birds may continue to use the winter roost site, too.
So what should a turkey roost site look like? The best way to get an idea for what a successful site looks like is to find an active turkey roost. Once you find this site, make notes on the canopy structure, the brush structure, and the habitat components that comprise the site. This is especially important if you are planning on creating or enhancing habitat to develop a roosting site on your property. This article has good information on finding a turkey roost.
In general, roost sites should be a minimum of about 15 acres and at least 20% of the roost site should be wooded. Basal area within the the stand should be between 80 and 130 square feet per acre. Basal area can be calculated by sampling the average size of trees in the area. To do this, mark off a square plot and measure the size of the plot. Next, take the diameter of trees at breast height (about 3-4 foot off the ground) that are found within the plot. Use this plot to estimate the basal cover (trunks) of tree ons your site. Do you have between 80 and 130 square feet of tree trunks per acre?
If you do, then there are some habitat management practices you can do to make this potential roost site better. Some evidence suggests turkey prefer an open understory beneath roost sites, which may explain why turkey prefer to roost over water. If your would-be roost site has lots of understory (brush), then it’s time to thin out a lot of the vegetation. This will allow turkey to fly up into roost trees and see predators on the forest floor.
The destruction or disturbance of roost sites can have detrimental effects on wild turkey populations. Destruction can be caused by conversion of wooded areas to increase agrictural production, by urban sprawl, or by inundation of water for reservoir construction. Loss fo roosting habitat increases susceptibility to predators and initiates a search for alternative roost sites. Furthermore, because turkey prefer slow growing, hardwood trees, restoration of suitable roosting habitat may take decades. The disturbance of existing habitat can be harmful, but sites can be improved in hopes of attracting roosting turkey.
Lastly, disturbances such as increased human encroachment, prolonged ranch activities, or hunting in roost sites can cause wild turkeys to abandon the roost site. In short, if you have an active roost site, make sure that you protect it as valuable habitat. If you do not currently have an active roost, implement the necessary habitat management practices to create a structurally sound site that will attract turkey. Good luck with your turkey roost and turkey management program.