The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 2, Chapter 2: Meet Wild Turkey, Gobbler of the Oaks

Dear Wood Folk,

We had a turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) moment a while back when discussing red oak. Turkey’s favorite food is acorns. The scarlet tanager may be the guardian of the oaks, but let’s call turkey the gobbler of the oaks?

These large birds are a common site around Haliburton, beside or crossing the road, flocking through yards. Along the way, they inhale about every food source you could imagine.

A hen and her poults.

Wild turkeys had to be reintroduced in Ontario. Settlers wiped them out. And then in 1984, we traded the United States for 274 wild turkeys, who quickly re-established themselves here.

These sort of wipe outs are common. I took a forest management course from Penn State and learned almost the entire forest was cleared there, and the deer all shot. Same story in many places. This kind of obliteration was why forest management and National parks became a thing, not that we’ve completely learned the lesson. Indigenous peoples really have the experience all should learn from.

Wild Turkey Plant Allies

Turkeys love mixed oak woods most of all. They wander across woodlands and open clearings, swallowing acorns and every imaginable snack whole.  When the females nest they often pick the base of a tree, or a spot hidden under thick shrubbery or in the tall grass. A brush pile may also be a perfect spot. They sparsely line the chosen spot with grass or dead leaves.

While turkeys do eat the creepy and crawling, from bugs to snakes, 90% of their diet is wild plants. They are fond of nuts, especially acorns and beechnuts! White ash seeds are yummy too, when they can find them here.

When Haliburton is covered in thick snow, they’ll eat buds and needles from white pine or hemlock, and other evergreens like some lichen. The buds and stems of beech, ironwood/hop hornbeam and sugar maple are turkey fodder too. In the winter, you may find V shaped scratch markings in the snow and muck from turkeys digging up such morsels. In the spring, they may dig up plant bulbs if nuts are hard to find. They’ll browse on the club mosses, fern fronds, and seedy plants remaining from last years growth, like burdock.

The fruits of berries like blackberry, crabapple, cherry (incl. black cherry!), dogwood, hawthorn, staghorn sumac and wild grape are among their favorites. They’ll eat about anything, even poison ivy berries. Seeds from wildflowers and grass and sedges, even young leaves and shoots are also turkey dish. They’ll love your sunflower garden if the blue jays and chickadees don’t raid it first. They’ll even dine on allergy causing ragweed. It’s a turkey buffet out here.

Wild Turkey Male
Wild Turkey Male, “Tom”, “Jakes” are younger males harder to tell from hens!

Attracting Wild Turkeys

While cracked corn is the turkey go to, artificially feeding turkeys causes them to lose their fear of people. And it can attract rodents you may not want! Better yet plant oaks. Our most common native oak around Haliburton is red oak, they love beech also, which is from the same (beech) family. Any other nut or berry producing tree or shrub will also attract them.

We’ve got plenty of natural grit and gravel around for them to suck up, but if you lack a water feature perhaps consider adding a pond. My pond has attracted many different kinds of birds including turkey, and deer, fox, bear, raccoons, the list goes on.

Wild Turkey Males
Wild Turkey Toms

Another grand piece of advice is to leave your leaves. Many of the treats turkeys are looking for, from insects to salamanders, need leaf cover to be established here. Leaving the leaves is a great thing to do for our natural world even if you don’t have turkeys in mind. Similarly, don’t use pesticides if you can help it.

Next month we’ll be talking about indigo bunting and preventing window collisions. Please follow us on socials so we can stick together!

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