Famously championed as our national bird by Benjamin Franklin, the wild turkey is a a common sight in forest-bordered fields, despite its shy nature. Relatively solitary during the breeding months, turkey flocks require large areas of land over which to range for food. In winter, turkeys scratch up leaf litter and debris in search of mast, or fallen seeds such as acorns and beech nuts, while in summer hens search out insects and green material for their rapidly growing chicks. Though most homeowners’ properties are much smaller than the 50 to 350 acres a turkey flock requires to thrive, you can successfully attract them to your backyard in areas where they are known to roam.
Provide several consistent, year-round sources of water. If your property includes a stream or pond, this condition is naturally fulfilled, but installing one or two self-refilling watering stations or large, easily refilled bird baths at the edges of the property gives the birds access to fresh water on demand.
Mow openings into adjacent stands of hardwood forest, if available. Turkeys take advantage of clearings both during the summer months, when males search out mates and females are leading their broods in search of insect protein, and in winter, when flocks band together to scratch for food throughout their home range.
Plant turkey-valued tree and shrub species near stands of oak and beech. Turkeys rely upon fallen acorns in winter, but also consume the fruits of species such as dogwood, blackberry, grape and wild cherry. Plant a variety of mostly native species that bear fruit or nuts throughout the year to provide a constant, rotating food source.
Plant narrow strips of forage crops at the edges of the yard. Turkeys are attracted to areas of sparse vegetation in which to forage, as long as they have access to forested cover where they can retreat if they feel threatened. Plant successions of annual crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, oats or a tuberous plant called chufa. Perennial options include sedges, ferns, native grasses, tickseed and vetch.
Scatter corn and other grain. If planting crop stands in your yard is not an option, turkeys will become repeat visitors to the yard once they discover a food source on the ground.
Provide a source of grit. Turkeys consume non-digestible items such as small pebbles and other hard debris to store in a pouch called the crop. This grit helps grind food and make it more digestible. Include small-gauge pebbles or gravel along with corn or grain forage, and turkeys will pick it out as they rummage for food.
Hold the herbicides and allow some “weeds” to grow. Furnishing your yard with areas of naturalized green forage areas not only provides turkeys with a springtime food source, but also allows insects to congregate. Young turkeys need an abundant source of protein in their first weeks of life, and hens will lead their young in search of grasshoppers, stink bugs, beetles, flies, moths, spiders and ants in these stands of vegetation.
Provide cover. Wild turkeys are extremely shy, cautious birds and will not approach an area if they detect regular human activity. While turkeys have been known to approach seldom-used decks and patios, they are more likely to visit a yard if they have easy access to shrubbery or a stand of trees to which they can quickly retreat.