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Wild Thing: Tough Times for Turkeys

Texas drought means less food for wild turkeys.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

After April’s wildfires scorched land near Strawn in West Texas, wild turkeys looking for an easy meal showed up.

“They pecked on dead insects, lizards and other little burned critters like popcorn,” observed Bret Collier, a research ecologist sent to study the aftereffects of fire on the birds.

Granted, burned areas turned up lots of munchies, but this year’s record drought has made such feasts a rare occurrence for turkeys.

“Turkeys in Texas exist on a boom-bust cycle,” says Collier, who’s with the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources at Texas A&M University. “They have a very short window of time to produce offspring. Because of our drought, there’s been no cover or insects. So very few turkey hens produced poults last spring.”

In better years, hens lay one egg a day in a shallow depression within grass or brush. Once a clutch of 12 or so eggs is complete, incubation starts. Within 24 hours of hatching, nestlings tag along after their mother and feed on insects, seeds and green plants.

In the winter, hens and juveniles join gobblers at historic roosts, usually in high trees near water. To reach them, some travel 20 or more miles, largely on foot (they can run up to 25 miles per hour).

“Turkeys aren’t robust fliers, but they do fly to evade predators and move across obstacles,” says Jason Hardin, turkey program leader for TPWD.

After temperatures warm, gobblers court females by displaying their magnificent tail plumage. After mating, gobblers flock together until winter. Likewise, immature males (jakes) and hens with poults respectively form their own flocks for better protection.


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