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What is Useable Space for Wild Turkeys?

This Turkey Tuesday is about what is and isn’t useable space for wild turkeys. The conversion of hardwood and mixed forests into pine plantations is common throughout broad areas of turkey range, particularly in the South and East. Although pine plantations can be valuable habitat for wild turkeys, they must be managed appropriately for that to happen – they must be thinned and managed with regular use of prescribed fire. The 2nd image shows locations of a hen throughout the year with her nest sites noted by stars – this is what a turkey’s use of its home range looks like in many situations, intensive use of areas with regularly used travel routes between seasonal ranges. The 3rd image shows what a managed pine plantation looks like, thinned and regularly burned to provide quality vegetation in the understory. The 4th image shows locations of a hen in an industrial pine landscape that is not well managed – the obvious pattern you see is that most locations are in areas that allow birds to travel and forage where they can see. The problem is, most of these areas are along roads and other linear openings, which results in most of the landscape not being turkey habitat. In fact, research on many prey species has shown that predators can be more efficient and effective hunting along simple edges like those created by roads, which in this case benefits the predator and not the turkey. The last image shows what I see across many sites dominated by unmanaged pine plantations – dense vegetation that turkeys cannot navigate, so they’re forced to use only the edges. The take home is, pine plantations can be managed to provide high quality habitat for wild turkeys, but to do that requires landowners to prioritize the bird and work to create and sustain vegetative conditions turkeys can thrive in.

Picture of tom © Tes Randle Jolly

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