How Wild Turkeys Endure Winter, and What You Can Do to Help
“Winter is a tough time for wild turkeys, but there are habitat improvements you can make to help them emerge healthy and ready for the spring breeding season
The gobbler began to stir with the first rays of morning light. He gave his body a shake to remove the accumulated snow that had piled onto his feathers during the night. As he surveyed the area around his cedar roost tree, he could see a blanket of white.
This was his third winter, and by now he knew what he needed to do to survive. He stood patiently on the limb, waiting on warming sunlight, in no hurry to fly down. He could hear the other longbeards that shared his roost area begin to stir. Once the sun was fully above the horizon, the group of mature toms would pitch down into the nearby hardwood drain and go about the task of finding enough food to get them through the day.
It isn’t easy to be a wild turkey in the winter. Surprisingly, winter mortality is relatively low. Studies have shown that survival rates average 70-100 percent during normal winters, and can dip down as low as 50-60 percent during extremely harsh northern winters. A mature wild turkey may lose up to 40 percent of its body weight before spring.
When it comes to winter survival, finding enough food is one of the chief concerns for a wild turkey, particularly in areas where deep snow is common and persists throughout the winter. Mast is the most important food source, both hard and soft, along with standing ag crops, weed seeds, and any dried and shriveled fruit that might be hanging on from the fall.
Wild turkeys have learned to adjust their movements and habits during cold winter days to take every possible advantage to help them survive. “Wild turkeys will roost on south slopes to catch the most sunlight,” said Dr. William Gulsby, Professor of Wildlife Management and Ecology at the University of Auburn and one of the lead researchers for the group Turkeys for Tomorrow. “They will roost in stands of conifers when temperatures drop, because those trees offer the most thermal protection. Those same conifer stands, mostly cedar and pine, also often provide some open ground below their understory, giving the birds more access to food that might be covered by several inches of snow in other areas.”
Mark Hatfield, National Director of Conservation Services for the National Wild Turkey Federation, says mast is the most important factor in wild turkey survival. “Mast doesn’t just mean acorns, although they play a key role. It can also be other hard mast like beech nuts or pig nut hickory. It can also be soft mast like leftover crabapples and plums. As long as [that soft mast] is persistent, meaning it hangs on the tree and above the snow cover through the winter, it can be beneficial to wild turkeys.”
While we have no control over the weather, there are things a landowner or property manager can do to help wild turkeys make it through the winter and emerge into the spring breeding season in top condition.”
The full article can be found here.
Photo Credit: Original Author