Wild Turkeys Foraging in Snow

Late winter is a time when the terms “wildlife carrying capacity” and “limiting environmental factors” are defined and illustrated. It is a time when populations of resident wildlife species, those that remain active through winter, reach an annual low.This is especially true in the North where accumulating snow cover limits mobility and access to dwindling food supplies.

Flocks of wild turkeys, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, are sometimes seen foraging in open areas adjacent to evergreen cover at this time of year. Cultivated farm fields, southern exposures and spring-fed wetlands are favorite habitats. I’ve had an opportunity to observe a small flock of turkeys, a “bachelor” group of toms or gobblers, for several weeks and will share some highlights.

These birds move into the stubble of a harvested corn field every afternoon, when  bright sunlight warms and softens crusted snow. Turkeys will feed on the persistent fruit of small trees and shrubs but they’re big, bulky birds and not built for that. They prefer to scratch and dig for food on the ground. In this case, the food of choice is waste grain.

Repeated scratching and digging exposes bare ground and small feeding sites. Occasionally, activity at a feeding site draws the attention of a nearby bird and he’ll run over to get in on the action. At this point the feeding behavior appears to be cooperative, with little aggression or fighting.

It won’t be long before these gobblers disperse to stake out breeding territories and locate hens. But, for now, the priority is winter survival.

Photos by NB Hunter (February, 2020). © All rights reserved.