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What Do Turkeys Eat in the Wild and as Pets?

Kristin Hitchcock

Turkeys are often considered the “foodies” of the bird world because compared to other bird species, they eat a wide variety of different foods.

In the wild, turkeys thrive in mature forests with abundant trees, and their diet changes with the season. In the spring, they will eat most leaves, buds, and grasses or whatever other plant material that they can find. In the fall, they prefer fruits, berries, seeds, and insects as they become available.

Truthfully, turkeys will eat just about anything in the wild. If it is edible, they will attempt to eat it if they become hungry enough. They do have their favorites, but turkeys are not known for being picky. Their region also affects what they eat because different plants are available at different times, depending on the climate.

In captivity, their diet tends to be a bit more restricting. In many cases, they eat mostly range grasses. They eat the growing tips of the grass, not the whole thing. They also enjoy many kitchen and garden scraps, like lettuce, tomatoes, summer squash, and similar foods.peacock divider

What Affects a Turkey’s Diet?

Tom Turkey
Image Credit: MOHANN, Pixabay

Many things can affect a wild turkey’s diet. They are not picky birds, so a single turkey’s diet may vary from day to day. They are extremely opportunistic, which means they tend to eat things as they find them. They don’t necessarily go looking for something in particular.

Location

Turkeys usually live in mature forests, but these forests can vary depending on the region. The exact nuts, fruits, bugs, and plant matter found in a forest will depend on the type of forest that it is.

Turkeys also live outside of mature forests. In agricultural areas, much of their diet may be the available grains and crops being grown. Turkeys will make do with what they have. So, if deforestation has caused mature forests to become unavailable, these turkeys will flee to agricultural lands and eat whatever is available there.

Turkeys that live in drier areas may eat lizards and similar small animals. Cacti and seeds may become more popular, as will any available insects. In swampy areas, turkeys may eat more plant matter and snack on reptiles, frogs, and salamanders.

Season

In different seasons, different foods are available. In the spring, turkeys tend to forage on tender plant matter, like buds, leaves, and grasses. They will also find leftover nuts. During summertime, insects will be more plentiful and will make up most of a turkey’s diet. They may eat berries as those come in the season as well. During the winter and fall, turkeys will eat fruits, grains, and seeds. If snow cover makes foraging difficult, they will eat pine needles, buds, ferns, lichens, and moss.

Age

Poults need more food than adults. They will spend most of their time eating. This makes their diet more varied than adults. Hens will often lead their broods to areas with more insects, as they provide protein for the birds’ development and are a steady source of food.

Adults will eat mostly plant matter, though they may eat bugs if those become abundant.

Female Wild Turkeys
Image Credit: MOHANN, Pixabay

When Do Turkeys Eat?

Turkeys tend to eat opportunistically throughout the day. They will simply wander around and eat things as they find them. Much of their day is spent looking for food, stripping seeds, and chasing insects. If they find something edible, they will find a way to eat it.

Most of their feeding will be done in the evening and morning, though. Many animals are less active during the hottest part of the day, so they will seek out less food during this time.

There are certain occasions when turkeys will fast. Hens incubating eggs typically sit on them for much of the time, only taking short breaks to eat and drink. Gobblers will only eat sporadically during the spring months, as much of their attention will be focused on mating.

Do Turkeys Eat Different Food Than Chickens?

Turkeys and chickens have different nutritional requirements, so they cannot eat the same foods. This is especially true for the younger animals. Turkeys need more protein because they grow faster than chickens. In captivity, it is best to keep them apart to ensure that each species is given appropriate food.

Turkeys are not just bigger chickens, so you cannot simply give them chicken feed. In captivity, it is best to provide turkeys with plenty of room to free-range because this is the easiest way to ensure a diverse, appropriate diet. You will often need 1/2 acre for every 12 birds. There are also commercial turkey feeds available. Be sure that whatever you choose is high in protein.

peacock dividerConclusion

Turkeys eat extremely varied diets as opportunistic feeders. They typically eat whatever edible foods they can find while wandering around. They spend much of their day looking for food, though turkeys may also fast for periods of time.

These birds are foragers, first and foremost. The foods available to them will vary depending on the location and time of year. They are not picky by any means, so their diets will change throughout their lives. Turkeys in different areas will not eat the same things, as different foods may be available.

In captivity, turkeys cannot be fed the same diet as chickens. They may be bigger birds, but they have different nutritional requirements. In general, turkeys need more protein than the average chicken. There are commercial feeds available, but many people let their turkeys free-range and forage.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Kristin Hitchcock

Kristin is passionate about helping pet parents create a fulfilling life with their pets by informing them on the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best products for their pets. She currently resides in Tennessee with four dogs, three cats, two fish, and a lizard, though she has dreams of owning chickens one-day!