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How Turkeys Handle the Diverse Array of Things They Eat

This Turkey Tuesday is about how turkeys handle the diverse array of things they eat, and will be the last Turkey Tuesday for a few weeks. I need to spend some time trying to kill a turkey instead of just writing about them! Turkeys are true omnivores, with a diet that is diverse – they routinely eat seeds, nuts, grasses and forbs, insects, amphibians, reptiles, the list goes on and on. Because turkeys don’t have teeth and can’t stand around to chew their food, they have cool adaptations to help them digest food on the fly. As turkeys obtain food, it is quickly stored in the crop before heading to the “stomach” (proventriculus) where digestion gets rolling. Many of us turkey hunters examine the crop to see what birds are eating, and you’ll often see crops that are loaded with a single prey item such as nuts, or insects, or a certain type of seed. Turkeys are opportunistic, so when they find a readily available food source they gorge themselves on it before moving on. From the stomach, food heads to the gizzard which is a muscular organ designed to grind up hard and fibrous food items. The area inside the gizzard, as shown in the 2nd picture, is very acidic (pH in the 2-3 range) and often contains small stones and grit to grind up food items. How many stones occur in gizzards varies greatly amongst birds, and even by season, as foods that are eaten vary in regards to how much grinding is needed for digestion. Occasionally, you’ll find some pretty interesting items in crops and gizzards – check out the marble in this gizzard from a bird in South Carolina. It appears to me that this bird used the analogy of “go big or go home” to the extreme, as that gizzard is loaded with stones of all sizes – including a marble. What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen in a tom’s crop or gizzard?

Picture of foraging jake © Tes Randle Jolly


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