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Turkey Call | Winter 2005 Out Here Magazine

Hens lay a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs and incubate them for about 28 days.

Invite gobblers with the right habitat

By Stephen Leon Alligood

Photography courtesy of the
National Wild Turkey Federation

When it comes to where they live and what they eat, wild turkeys are some kind of picky.

"If you want to have turkeys on your land, you have got to provide habitat for a 12-month period," says Robert Abernethy, a wildlife biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation. The nonprofit organization in Edgefield, S.C., with more than a half-million members, promotes proper land management techniques to sustain a turkey population.

Turkeys have different needs with each of the four seasons, Abernethy says. In fall and winter, they desire big, open hardwood forests, where they feed on mast — acorns and other dry fruit from woody plants.

In spring and summer, the wild fowl prefer wide, open pastures. They dine on warm season grasses, such as clover or rye grass, and, especially in the summer, spend their days scouting for insects such as grasshoppers and crickets.

But when turkeys have poults, as their young are called, mother birds prefer to browse in fields with protective thickets nearby so they can scurry to shelter in case a predator arrives upon the scene.

A landowner must have all of these various types of food sources and habitat available to keep the birds nearby year 'round, Abernethy says. Of course, a stand of acorn-producing oaks is not something that can be grown in a season, but landowners can attract the birds with plantings of grasses and creating open spaces where they can forage for insects.

"If your land provides some or all of these kinds of habitat then you are going to have turkeys," he says. "You don't have to worry about finding them; they'll find you."

Attract turkeys by creating open spaces where they can forage for insects.

Six species of turkey inhabit the United States, according to the wild turkey federation. Their range stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic, but populations are most heavily concentrated in the eastern half of the country.


Depending on the kind of habitat a landowner's property affords, the birds may show themselves only during certain times of the year.


"They may come for a while, but they'll move on to your neighbor's property down the road, which gives them what they want and need for the time of year. Typically, nationwide, the limiting factor in turkey populations is the lack of a broad habitat," he says.


That's not to say the wild turkey, once considered a possible national symbol of America, isn't faring well. In fact, the bird has made a significant rebound in the past 32 years. In 1973, when the National Wild Turkey Federation was chartered, there were an estimated 1.3 million turkeys. Today, the wild turkey population has grown to about 7 million.


"It's really a pretty good come-back story, Abernethy says. "With good land management, their population should continue to grow in this country."


Stephen Leon Alligood lives and works in Middle Tennessee.