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The Importance of Fall for Wild Turkeys

This Turkey Tuesday is about how important fall is to wild turkeys as they prepare for winter. With fall upon us (finally!), winter is sure to be right around the corner. To prepare for winter, wild turkeys have a suite of adaptations starting with the ability to eat many types of foods during fall – grasses, seeds, fruits, insects, acorns, waste grain – you name it. These foods allow turkeys to gain weight and store fat, both of which help them withstand the upcoming cold temperatures. Turkeys are supposed to be at their heaviest at the end of winter so that they enter the spring breeding season in optimal shape, so it’s easy to see why quality foods during fall and winter are so important. In birds, hens that leave winter heavy with good fat reserves have greater reproductive success – and in turkeys, hens have a higher metabolic cost to maintain their body temperatures. So, for hens it is even more important to have quality, high energy foods during fall and winter, and to use other adaptations to conserve energy. During cold snaps, it’s common to see turkeys use their body feathers to cover their legs while roosting, fluff their feathers to trap warm air, and even tuck their heads under their wings – like us, turkeys lose lots of heat from their heads. The take home is, fall is a critical period for turkeys as they prepare for winter and they have many adaptations to both gain energy and conserve it. Photo by Joe Foster.

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