What Do Turkeys Eat? A Comprehensive Guide to Gobbler Grub

Hunters typically focus their scouting efforts on roosting areas, clearings, and routes connecting the two areas when looking for spring turkeys. This strategy makes sense because, at this time of year, gobblers are more concerned with showing off than with finding a meal. But turkeys have to eat, too, and paying attention to food sources can pay off.

Turkey hunters can benefit greatly from knowing what wild turkeys eat and why they eat particular foods at particular times of the year. From a management perspective, it can help us gauge the productivity of different habitats. And from a scouting perspective, it can help us pinpoint areas where birds are likely to congregate.

Ah, the majestic wild turkey. A symbol of autumn bounty a challenge for seasoned hunters and a source of endless fascination for birdwatchers. But have you ever wondered what fuels these magnificent creatures? What do turkeys eat, and how does their diet vary throughout the year and across different regions?

Fear not fellow turkey enthusiast for this comprehensive guide will delve into the fascinating world of turkey cuisine. We’ll explore their diverse palate, from the tender greens of spring to the hearty acorns of fall, and uncover the secrets behind their seasonal dietary shifts. So, grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and let’s embark on a journey into the culinary world of the wild turkey.

A Turkey’s Diet: A Feast for All Seasons

Wild turkeys like many of us humans are omnivores. This means their diet isn’t limited to just plants or just meat; they’re happy to gobble up a diverse array of offerings, depending on what’s available and what their bodies crave at different times of the year.

Spring: As the world awakens from winter’s slumber, turkeys turn their attention to the fresh, tender greens that sprout up across the landscape. Clover, alfalfa, and young shoots of cereal grains like wheat and oats become their primary source of sustenance. They’ll also eagerly devour insects, especially grasshoppers and beetles, which provide essential protein for egg-laying hens and growing poults.

Summer: The summer months bring a cornucopia of delicious options for turkeys. They’ll happily munch on a variety of berries, fruits, and seeds, along with a steady supply of insects. This high-protein diet fuels their growth and development, especially for young poults who rely heavily on bugs for their first few months of life.

Fall: As the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to turn, turkeys shift their focus to the bounty of hard mast, such as acorns and beechnuts. These energy-rich nuts provide them with the fuel they need to survive the colder months. They’ll also continue to eat insects, seeds, and any remaining berries they can find.

Winter: During the winter, when food sources are scarce, turkeys rely heavily on their fat reserves and any remaining hard mast they can find. They’ll also scavenge for waste grain and other agricultural leftovers, especially in areas near farms and fields.

Regional Variations: A Turkey’s Culinary Tour

While the general dietary patterns of wild turkeys remain consistent across the country, there are some regional variations depending on the available food sources. Let’s take a closer look at the unique culinary preferences of different turkey subspecies:

Eastern Turkeys: These widespread birds favor hard mast like acorns and beechnuts, along with seeds from native grasses and wildflowers. They’ll also readily consume waste grains and agricultural leftovers, especially in the Midwest.

Rio Grande Turkeys: These arid-dwelling birds rely heavily on oaks, pecans, and other mast trees, along with insects and various grasses. They’ll also incorporate prickly pears and other cacti into their diet, especially during dry periods.

Merriam’s Turkeys: Found in the mountainous regions of the West, these turkeys favor nuts from hardwood trees, along with ponderosa pine seeds and berries. They’ll also consume insects, especially grasshoppers, and readily take advantage of leftover feed grains in cattle country.

Osceola Turkeys: These colorful Floridian birds adapt their diet to their environment. Swamp-dwelling Osceolas incorporate frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians into their diet, while dryland birds focus on grubs and acorns. They also enjoy berries, wild grapes, ferns, and other plant life.

Gould’s Turkeys: The rarest of the five subspecies, Gould’s turkeys primarily consume piñon nuts, berries, and various grasses and cacti. They’ll also occasionally snack on lizards, adding a bit of protein to their diet.

The Importance of Food for Turkey Hunting

Understanding what turkeys eat is crucial for successful hunting. By identifying their preferred food sources in your area, you can increase your chances of encountering these elusive birds. Here are some tips for using turkey food preferences to your advantage:

Spring: Focus on areas with fresh green vegetation, wildflowers, and open fields where insects are abundant. These locations provide turkeys with the protein and energy they need during the breeding season.

Summer: Look for areas with a diverse range of berries, fruits, seeds, and insects. Turkeys will be drawn to these areas for their nutritional value and abundance.

Fall: Identify areas with a high concentration of hard mast, such as oak and beech forests. These locations will be prime feeding grounds for turkeys as they prepare for winter.

Winter: Search for areas with remaining hard mast, agricultural leftovers, and open water sources. These locations will provide turkeys with essential food and hydration during the lean winter months.

By understanding the dietary needs and preferences of wild turkeys, you can become a more effective hunter and gain a deeper appreciation for these fascinating creatures. So, the next time you see a turkey strutting through the woods, remember the diverse and delicious diet that fuels its impressive physique and captivating behavior.

Inspect a Turkey’s Crop

All five subspecies of wild turkeys in North America eat this diet. The specific contents of their diet varies significantly by region, however, and the best way to understand what turkeys are eating in your area is to inspect the crop of a harvested bird.

“Sometimes you open up their crop and it’s packed full of one flower,” says Dr. Mike Chamberlain, a lifelong turkey hunter and one of the country’s leading wild turkey researchers. “Other times you’ll see ten different things. ”.

What Types of Food Do Wild Turkeys Eat?

Wild turkeys are true omnivores. This means that, in addition to the occasional small mammal, reptile, or amphibian, they will consume almost anything they come across, including grasses, invertebrates, forbs, seeds, tubers, nuts, and fruits. Wild turkeys living in farm country will also seek out waste grain, chaff, and other agricultural leftovers.

A hen searches for bugs during the summertime in Florida.

Although the majority of a wild turkey’s yearly diet consists of plants, the birds’ primary source of protein comes from invertebrates, particularly grubs and insects. That means wild turkeys do eat pill bugs, grasshoppers, beetles, snails, caterpillars, and ticks.

Turkeys forage for these food sources throughout the day by scratching and pecking at the ground. Before being swallowed and digested, the food is held in the bird’s crop, an enlarged chamber in the esophagus.

What Do Wild Turkeys Eat? Feeding Habits And Cool Diet Facts


What is a turkey’s favorite food?

Sunflower, milo, and millet are all enjoyable types of seeds to put out for wild turkeys. Nuts- Acorns are a chosen favorite for wild turkeys. But in the wintertime, acorns can become scarce. Beech and hickory nuts are a great alternative.

What is the best feed for turkeys?

Turkeys are fed nutritionally balanced diets of mixed grains and oilseeds, which typically include corn, soya, wheat, barley and canola, for healthy growth and development.

Do turkeys eat chicken feed?

While turkeys can physically consume chicken starter, it may not provide them with the optimal nutrition they need. To ensure the best growth and health for turkeys, using a turkey starter feed is recommended.

What are turkeys fed with?

They are fed a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals. Genetic improvements, better feed formulation and modern management practices are responsible for the size of turkeys produced today. On average, it takes 75-80 pounds of feed to raise a 38-pound tom turkey.

Where do turkeys eat?

In the wild, turkeys pick and pluck at many of the same forbs preferred by whitetails. So, again, in the early spring, simple finding the areas that are greening up with tender shoots, whether that an ag field, food plot, or naturally growing forbs, is a great way to find birds. 3. Turkeys Eat Hard and Soft Mast

What are the health benefits of ground turkey?

Ground turkey has multiple benefits. It is a good source of minerals, and B vitamins, rich in proteins, low in fat and it is lower in calories than common turkey.

How do wild turkeys eat?

They will actively feed in the morning and in the evening just before dark. Where food is limited, the birds will forage all day long. Wild turkeys will swallow their food whole and the food will be stored in their crop after which it will be digested in small portions. After feeding, wild turkeys will roost for a few hours while the food digests.

What do Merriam’s turkeys eat?

Tender grass shoots and buds are other springtime favorites, and Merriam’s turkeys often feed exclusively on grasshoppers at certain times of the year, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Merriam’s turkeys living in cattle country will also concentrate on feedlots, scrounging for leftover alfalfa, barley, and other waste grains.

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