Wild Turkey Management
In the Texas Panhandle
The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) has been recorded in all of Texas Panhandle counties except Castro, Dallam, Deaf Smith, Parmer, Sherman, and Swisher. Two subspecies of Wild Turkey have original ranges in West Texas: Rio Grande Turkey (M. g. intermedia) and Merriam's Turkey (M. g. merriami). The Rio Grande Turkey occupied the eastern and central portion of the Texas Panhandle north to the Canadian River bottoms; whereas Merriam's Turkey occurred along the Canadian River possibly as far east as Carson County, Texas. History of Wild Turkey in the Texas Panhandle is one of abundance, followed by eradication and reintroduction. The eastern and southeastern portions of the Northern Rolling Plains contain some of the highest populations of Rio Grande Turkeys in Texas and the United States. Populations of this upland game bird increased considerably during the 1970s and 1980s following restocking efforts by TPW, natural reproduction, and range expansion. Numbers of Rio Grande turkeys vary considerable throughout the region and fluctuate annually, depending on favorable rainfall during the nesting period and overall habitat conditions. During prolonged periods of drought, numbers may decline and then rebound during favorable years. Rio Grande turkeys require tall trees for roosting and good ground vegetation, brush, and grasses for nesting and survival of young (poults). Riparian zones along streams and rivers of the region provide important habitat for this species for roosting, nesting, water, food production, and cover. Winter roosts are commonly found along these drainages but turkeys may also roost on hillsides with tall oak trees and other native tree species. During the nesting period, hens disperse from their winter range to nest and may travel considerable distances. Young reach adult size by early fall. Winter habitat is the backbone of the birds' annual range. Turkeys normally spend about six months (October to March) in winter habitat, which must provide a reliable and adequate food supply, plus cover during bad weather
Turkeys are a very large, small-headed, round-winged, long-tailed, ground-dwelling bird, with an unfeathered bluish head and reddish throat, dark breast, belly and upper back iridescent bronze, green wings, barred primaries, and a dark, fan-shaped tail with a brown or buff band at the tip. The adult male has a large head with wattle at throat, caruncled forehead, and projection behind the bill and more iridescent plumage. Clutch Size ranges from ~ 8 to 15 eggs, length of incubation ranges from ~ 27 to 28 days, number of days to fledge ranges from ~ 6 to 10, and average number of broods is 1, unless the nest is destroyed.
Wild Turkey usually nest in a shallow depression on the ground lined with leaves and gasses that is well concealed in thick shrugs or woodlands, and within ~ 1/4 mi of available water. At night, they roost in large trees, particularly cottonwood. In some areas turkeys will use artificial roost structures. Annual reproductive success in measured annually by District Wildlife Biologists by use of hen-poult surveys conducted during late summer.
A comprehensive habitat management plan for turkeys starts by developing the proper combinations of food, cover, and water that produce maximum numbers of birds compatible with other land use practices. In the habitat, food must be in proper association with cover and water. Seasonal abundance or scarcities of acceptable and preferred food bring about changes in both habits and habitats of wild turkeys. Birds shift their range in response to scarcity of food. Daily movements are largely determined by activity associated with searching for food. Turkey forage mostly on the ground and there diet varies highly throughout the year, which may include insects, invertebrates (worms, snails, spiders, arthropods) mast (acorns, nuts, fruits), seeds from grasses and forbs, and greens. They will use waste grain from corplands if adjacent to woodlands. Fluctuations in the supply of mast (acorns), fruit, and seeds usually are not critical to turkeys. Low production in one type usually coincides with high production in another. Oaks produce maximum seed crops during different periods, so that in effect their production periods alternate and insure a mast supply. Wild grapes and other fruiting species appear to have heaviest crops every other season and more nearly follow a regular cyclic pattern. Crops such as soybeans, cowpeas, pea, buckwheat, sorghums, corn, and cultivated millets are foods that are highly sought after by turkey. Turkeys depend heavily upon foods produced in wooded habitat during much of the year. At other times, particularly during summer, birds may be found in fields and pastures where insects, grass seeds, and berries are abundant. As such, their feeding habits may place them in direct competition with both domestic and wild animals for their preferred food. Large populations of deer, rodents, and domestic livestock can seriously deplete normal turkey food supplies. Mast may be devoured by the large animals almost as fast as it falls from the trees, while the rodents feed both in the trees and on the ground. Other kinds of wildlife probably do not seriously deplete food when it is in normal or abundant supply.
General Foods - Prime turkey foods fit into a few general categories: mast (oaks and acorns); fruits (grape, persimmon, juniper); seeds (native grasses, corn, oats, weeds); and greens (grass and grass-like plants as well as selected annual and perennial forbs). Variety is not only in the plant species, but also in the plant parts consumed (i.e., fruits, seeds, seed-heads, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, buds, leaves, flowers, pods, and capsules).
Spring and Summer Foods - Acorns are very important throughout the year, but grass leaves show an increased importance during the spring. Greenleaf material and other plant parts are taken, but corn as a crop residue is important when snows disappear. Turkey foods in order of importance are: grass leaves, crabgrass seeds (late summer and fall), greenleaf material, berries, grasshoppers and beetles, acorns (early spring), panic grass seeds.
Fall and Winter Foods - The fall and winter diet of Wild Turkey is largely governed by food availability in localized habitats. Generally, the more important foods are: winter wheat, crabgrass seeds (fall), acorns (winter), corn (as residue), panic grass seeds, wild grape, greenleaf material, grasshoppers (fall).
Food Plots - Annual grain food plots for turkeys only supplement natural food supplies and are no substitute for quality management of native wildlife habitat; however, in times of extremely bad weather or during drastic shortages of natural foods, food plots may be useful. Of all cereal grains used in food plots, oats and winter wheat appear to be most successful. A more permanent one acre food plot (i.e., green browse plot) can be established in brush or woodland clearings by applying recommended amounts of limestone and fertilizer and then seeding in the fall with ½ bushel of winter wheat and 2 lbs of orchard grass. Overseed ½ half of the acre plot in the fall or winter with 2 lbs. Of clover; overseed the ½ acre with 10 lbs. Of lespedeza. Such plantings should provide attractive, nutrituous food for turkeys, quail, deer, and other wildlife for 3 to 5 yrs without further treatment. Apply no more than 20 lbs/acre of nitrogen plant food to avoid excessive vegetative growth.
Idle Fields - Abandoned fields surrounded by brush or woodland an essential part of the home range of turkey. Attempts should be made to keep old fields open and in a grass-legume mixture if possible. Mowing or moderate grazing improves the quality of these fields.
Crop Residues - Corn fields attract turkeys during periods of severe weather in late winter and early spring when food supplies are short. A few rows of corn left standing next to woodland or brush land will insure a food supply during winter. If it does not occur naturally, a portion of the corn left standing should be knocked down for good use by turkeys.
In the Texas Panhandle, Wild Turkey prefer open, mature native wood and brush lands, and healthy riparian corridors providing the understory is not too dense or lush. Because turkey prefer thin stands of vegetation, openings permit growth of forage and fruit-producing species for several years after woodlands are cut. Additionally, an open understory provides a psychological condition necessary for primary turkey range. This stand condition also provides unique litter that is productive of insects and herbaceous forage critical to turkeys. Wild turkey exhibit a decrease in size of populations associated with deterioration of these habitats. Deterioration of habitat has resulted primarily from changed land uses, exclusion of fire, and encroachment of exotic species, which appear unattractive to turkeys. Extensive eastern red cedar invasion may reduces the carrying capacity of a tract by as much as 50%. Good cover for turkey should consist of a significant component of the vegetation in young and mature woodland and trees, especially near perennial streams and along riparian corridors. Trees and shrubs should be planted were cover is sparse. Livestock grazing should be restricted or conducted during the winter so as to leave thick herbaceous cover for nesting. Spring grazing can be detrimental to nesting habitat, especially in riparian areas
Wild Turkeys require water and are usually not found in areas where water is lacking. Construction of 1 small pond every sq. mi or preferably every quarter section, where there is no permanent water will improve habitat for upland game. Water development may include catchment ponds, guzzlers, windmills, and spring or seep enhancement. Wild Turkey generally do not travel > ½ mi for water. Maintaining healthy riparian corridors with mature nest trees, and good cottonwood, willow, and hackberry regeneration free of the degrading effects of carful livestock grazing is critical to maintaining quality turkey habitat and long-term viability of turkey populations in the Texas Panhandle
- To meet year-round food requirements, quality habitat for turkey should include clearings where insects can be captured; and 10% of the total riparian/woodland area should be maintained in scattered openings to provide optimum foraging.
- Brush chop or disk small areas to maintain some perennial forbs, grasses, and shrubs.
- Use controlled/prescribed burns every 3 to 5 yrs in shrub habitats.
- Clear-cut 10 to 20 acres in large expanses of young and mature woodland or trees.
- Plant several perennial food plots (1-10 acre fields) to native grasses and legumes in large expanses of shrubs and young woodlands where food is limiting.
- Plant native mast crop trees.
- Eliminate fall tillage of grain crops, especially adjacent to woodlands.
- Leave small areas of grain crops unharvested.
- Livestock grazing should leave some forbs and grasses available for food, particularly in riparian areas. This may require development of livestock watering facilities on adjacent uplands to discourage congregation in and overuse of these areas.
There are spring and fall hunting seasons for Rio Grande Turkey in most counties of the Texas Panhandle. Hunting seasons and daily bag limits are set by TPW Commission. Refer to Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual (2002 - 2003) for information on hunting zones, seasons, and bag limits. Public turkey hunting opportunities also are available in the Texas Panhandle at the Matador and Gene Howe wildlife management areas.
For further information click here to locate a Wildlife Biologist in your county.