How to Maintain Turkey Habitats on Your Property
Maintaining turkey habitats to attract wild turkey in the United States requires that you address the basics of food, shelter, and safety. Whether you are just starting your search for the perfect property or looking to upgrade your hunting habitat, here’s what you need to know.
Why Think About Maintaining Wild Turkey Habitat on Your Land?
If you like to bow hunt turkey, you may not have ever considered what it takes to maintain a wild turkey habitat. Public lands span thousands of acres, all available for the public to use and rich in game habitat. However, when it comes to your own property, you’ll need to think more critically about how to attract wild turkeys to your property. Wild turkeys will not stick around if their basic needs are not met.
To develop a turkey habitat, you’ll need to provide:
- Protection from predators
When considering how to attract wild turkeys to your property, one of the first things to put into place is food. The wild turkey range is approximately 100 acres when they are born, expanding to six square miles as they mature. Turkeys will wander a mile or two every day in search of food, and if they have to go much further, they may leave altogether.
There are a variety of foods to look for if you are considering setting up a wild turkey habitat on your land.
Mast-producing trees and shrubs provide food year-round for turkeys but are critical in the winter months. Hard mast vegetation includes nut-producing trees, and soft mast plants produce berries and fruits.
Cultivated Food Plots
While some farmers are frustrated by turkeys in the corn, you’ll want to consider planting your own to satisfy your birds.
In addition to corn, wild turkeys also enjoy:
Some of these crops not only help provide food for your turkey habitat — they can also improve the overall health of the soil.
The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) recommends a turkey habitat that includes grasses for the turkeys who are native to that area. In a perfect world, your property will have lush native grasses. If previous property managers have neglected these critical grasses, take action for improved growth.
Attracting turkeys to your rich native grasslands might require farming best practices such as:
- Discing:Loosens the soil for native grass seeds to propagate
- Mowing: Spreads more seeds
- Prescribed burns: Attracts insects and stimulates growth
What Not to Feed Turkeys
Knowing what to feed is important, but knowing what not to feed turkeys could be the difference between life and death. At all costs, avoid access to the following foods, either by accident or active feeding:
- Uncooked legumes
- Nightshade leaves and stems (e.g., green parts of eggplant, tomato, and potato plants)
Each of these can cause serious illness and even death in your flock.
Shelter and cover are a big deal when it comes to turkey habitat. A high quality wild turkey habitat has a combination of mature trees, a lush understory, and open grasslands.
Hens lay clutches of 4-12 eggs in nesting sites at the base of trees, in dense brush piles, and in fields with dried grasses.
Safe spaces for brood rearing require not only proper nesting grounds, but also easy access to food and water for hens as they raise their babies.
Trees provide protection from predators above, but mature pines and hardwoods go one step further. If habitat conditions are right, turkeys generally roost in the same tall tree every night. They will settle as high as possible, and they prefer to roost near water. Timber management is important for the health and safety of your flock. Mast trees must be 14-16 inches in diameter to provide food, cover, and roosting space for wild turkeys. If you are lucky enough to find land that has good stands of well-spaced, healthy trees, that’s great.
- Plant trees using forest management best practices
- Thin or removed diseased trees
- Prune trees
- Remove vines or strangling foliage
As turkey broods can be no more than a quarter mile from water, you'll need to make sure that the land you buy has ample water sources. These can include:
If natural water sources are not available, you can:
- Drill a well
- Install a pond
- Create a water catchment (a depression constructed in a low-lying area)
The turkey's natural predators ironically serve an important part in building a healthy turkey population. They cull sick or diseased birds that may spread illness to the rest of the flock. But limiting predation is important when the predators begin to outnumber the turkeys on your property. Common predators include:
You need to consult your local management regulations for suggestions on ways to control the predator population on your land.
Why Do Wild Turkeys Leave a Habitat?
Many hunters have headed out on opening day to find their land, previously teeming with wild turkeys, totally empty of birds. There are two reasons why this might occur, both related to an annual seasonal shift.
It’s Nesting Season
Turkey mating season varies depending on where you live, but it generally starts late March to mid-April. If proper accommodations are not around, hens begin to roam farther afield looking for a good nest. And where the hens go, the toms follow.
Food Sources are Scarce
Once fall and winter’s acorns are gobbled up, turkeys head out looking for a different food source. Early spring is the prime season for juicy grubs and fresh native grasses.
Attract Turkeys To Your Property
After dangerous declines in the 18th and 19th centuries, largely due to habitat loss, wild turkey populations have rebounded in the U.S. Knowing how to attract turkeys to your property can continue this rebound, benefiting both the natural environment in which they live and providing years of hunting recreation.