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Obtaining Food in Late Fall and Winter

This Turkey Tuesday is about how adept wild turkeys are at obtaining food when it starts to become limited in late fall and winter. Wild turkeys are known to eat hundreds of food items, and we often think about those items being on the ground or very close to it – basically at a turkey’s head height or below. I often catch myself assessing availability of turkey food while focused solely on what is on or just above the ground – but the reality is, turkeys can and do exploit food sources that require a bit of extra effort. All turkey hunters recognize that turkeys have powerful legs, that can allow a spooked tom to vacate the premises like a rocket ship. But those legs are not just made for walking! Turkeys can dig and scratch to find food, and those legs also allow birds to launch themselves off the ground into low-growing shrubs laden with fruit – like the holly bushes in these pictures. They’ll also fly into trees laden with fruit on branches and vines, and research has shown that they’ll remain in trees for days exploiting nuts, berries, and tree buds when they’re forced to do so. They’ll also cooperate to obtain food – earlier researchers using imprinted poults noted that birds would disturb vegetation and flush insects collectively as a group, making those insects vulnerable to the group rather than an individual attempting to forage solely on their own. The take home is wild turkeys can obtain food at and well above ground level using a suite of morphological and behavioral adaptations.

© Tes Randle Jolly

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