This Turkey Tuesday is about the importance of agricultural crops to wild turkeys during fall and winter. Throughout much of their range, wild turkeys most rely on acorns as a critical food source during winter. But in many areas where agriculture is an important land-use practice, wild turkeys are closely linked to the waste grains available in agricultural fields. This reliance can be quite dramatic in some areas such as parts of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and in the West. Winter flocks using waste grain fields may maintain small home ranges and repeatedly use the same fields for weeks, before moving to nearby areas where grain is available. These shifts to locate fall/winter foods can sometimes result in flocks traveling quite a distance, before settling down again in a small local area until waste grains are depleted. In fact, in grassland areas and where livestock production is an important land use practice, winter flocks of turkeys will often intensively use feed lots and areas where livestock are fed, as they can obtain grain being fed to the livestock. During severe weather, waste grains can be particularly important as they allow turkeys to forage efficiently and reduce energy expenditures. If you spend any time in agricultural areas, you have seen the changes to farming practices through time and harvesting equipment has never been as efficient at removing seed from crop fields. Logically, as waste grains become less available and farming practices advance, wild turkeys in agricultural landscapes will be increasingly challenged to locate abundant fall and winter foods. Perhaps these challenges can be at least partially addressed through improved management of native plant communities in agricultural landscapes, only time will tell. Anyone seeing winter flocks using agricultural fields in your neck of the woods?
Picture © Darcy Daniels