6 Tips for Feeding Wild Turkeys with Your Garden

from Wildlife Promise

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Turkeys are some of the most recognizable birds in this country. Holidays like Thanksgiving give us great excuses to learn more than recipes about turkeys and discuss their intriguing history, make turkey-inspired crafts and memorize amusing trivia. As these fascinating and adaptable birds are becoming increasingly common backyard visitors and popular birdwatching subjects, we wanted to share what would be on their proverbial “plate.” In this post we’ll talk about how you can create a nice buffet for these birds.

Wild turkeys are incredibly opportunistic—getting nutrients from a variety of sources. If you’ve ever seen them in your yard, there’s a chance they were foraging for food. They spend a great deal of time doing this in flocks depending on the time of year, which determines what food sources are available to them.  If you’re curious about finding turkeys or attracting them to your yard, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Feeding Wild Turkeys the Natural Way

Where Turkeys are Permanent Residents by Nature Serve

Wild Turkey’s Range provided by Nature Serve

  1. Plant Native Oaks: Turkeys will consume acorns from forest floors as they forage. By planting native oaks, like red oak, chestnut oak and black oak, you can help provide food for turkeys as well as a number of other animals. Turkeys will eat acorns in fall and winter and in many oak forests you can even notice a V-shaped scratching in the leaf litter (a sure sign of wild turkeys). Since turkeys are typically found in hardwood forests, much of their diet comes from acorns (aka mast).
  2. Plant Other Nut and Berry Producing Plants: Other staples to turkey diets include: beech nuts, pecans, hickory nuts, crabapples, and hackberries. By sticking to native plants you’ll provide the turkeys with food they’ve consumed for thousands of years. In some locations they will even feed on cacti. Planting suggestions also include black cherry trees, flowering dogwood, white ash (they like the seeds), they’ll also eat the buds off hemlock and a number of other trees produce fruit or nuts.  They are also known to eat grapes off native vines and will even consume poison ivy berries and native blueberries.
  3. Offer Seeds and Browse: Grasses and sedges allow them to eat seeds in the springtime while providing habitat for the insects that turkeys will occasionally consume. Wild turkeys will feed off sensitive fern fertile stalks, club mosses, burdock, spore-covered fronds especially when there is a lot of snow cover. Note the emphasis of offering seeds via plants and not a feeder. We don’t encourage attracting turkeys to feeders like we would songbirds, mostly because they can become territorial.
  4. Leave the Leaves: By leaving some of the plant matter in your garden, you’re helping provide future food for turkeys and habitat for many of the animals they rely on. Wild turkeys also enjoy eating small reptiles and amphibians (red-backed salamanders,  cricket frogs, small snakes etc) that often live in fallen leaves or in decaying logs.
  5. Grit and Gravel: Turkeys will swallow grit to help them digest their food.
  6. Refrain from Using Pesticides: Aside from the direct harm you can cause animals by using pesticides and herbicides, by not using chemicals you can feed turkeys with insects, spiders, and invertebrates. About 10% of an adult wild turkey’s will consist of small animals. They will eat a variety of insects (such as stink bugs, grasshoppers, ground beetles) as well as snails, slugs, worms and other invertebrates. They eat a majority of them in the spring and their precocial young are also known seek out the protein this way.

Expert Tip: Provide a pond or water source. By providing a water source close to the ground you can help supply water for the turkeys as well as a number of other animals.

Have you ever seen a wild turkey in your yard? What other things have you seen wild turkeys eating? As I was researching this post I realized how very versatile these birds truly are. By creating a space for them in your yard, you’re helping fill the niche they provide in the ecosystem and helping sustain biodiversity in your area!

Become a Wildlife Gardener with National Wildlife Federation. It’s free and you’ll get great wildlife gardening tips and learn how to certify your garden as an official habitat.

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Wild Turkey Chick

*Please be aware of their occasional aggressive tendencies. Should you encounter a turkey that’s got something to prove, it is recommended you assert your dominance. If you find that the wild turkeys in your yard are too much trouble, we recommend putting automatic sprinklers in your yard to scare them off (they also don’t like dogs).

Additional Sources on what Wild Turkeys Eat

Maryland Department of Natural Resources- Making a home for wild turkeys
Eastern Wild Turkey Fact Sheet
Avian Web- Wild Turkey
Arkive- Wild Turkey

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