Turkeys have sometimes been referred to as feathered goats when it comes to their eating habits. The wild turkey’s diet is very diverse. It might be easier to list what they don’t eat rather than trying to come up with a list of things they do eat.
When I kill a turkey, I always inspect its crop contents. Sometimes referred to as the craw by our southern friends. The crop clearly shows what turkeys are feeding in a given area. The crop is an enlarged muscle area of the esophagus near the gullet or throat.. See #4 on A.E. Shipley’s diagram.
OK you’re on the ball the diagram is a pigeon, that’s fine because almost all birds have crops. One exception that may be of interest to hunters are geese; they do not have a crop. I continue to be surprised by the number of bird hunters I meet who do not regularly open the crops of harvested birds to determine what they are eating.
Images of wild turkey crops and their contents.
A lot of hunters assume turkeys eat primarily agricultural crops and focus their hunting efforts on these fields; this is understandable since field turkeys are the easiest to see. Unfortunately, hunters who primarily focus on fields are missing out on a lot good turkey hunting in all the other out of sight areas.
Many assume wild turkeys primarily eat agriculture crops. They do, but it’s the waste they go after not the standing crops. Think feathered goat.
- How can you say turkeys eat the waste grain when I see them feeding in fields before harvest?
Jon Freis says
Thanks for the story. I watched turkeys pick oats seeds right off the plants. They’re opportunists, if they have a choice of picking soybeans (40% protein) over foraging and scratching for subsistence living, they’ll gorge on the agricultural crops.
Many farmers rotate soybeans and corn, because corn takes nitrogen out of the soil and soybeans puts nitrogen into the soil. Together with all the waste grain from wheat and oats left over for turkeys to eat from December to March, it’s no wonder we can grow so many turkeys in Wisconsin.
Even if the fields are chisel-plowed, they’ll still find enough grain to make it worthwhile. But where the farmers didn’t plow it before winter, the birds have a feast. My picture above was from Dec. 16, after all the fields have been harvested.
I speculate they fly down from the roost with an empty crop (because I shot birds early in the morning, with nothing in their crop), then they go to feed, fill their crop, then loaf from about 11 to 2, digest, then feed before they go to roost, digest it during the night. And repeat. Jon http://www.turkeydog.org/
charlie elk says
At times I have found turkey crops empty and partially full in the morning. Seems to be a depends. Frequently the very late season morning birds have leftover food in their crops. I speculate this is due to cold temperatures increasing their feeding activity just in case they have to stay roosted because of inclement weather. These late season birds have a lot more body fat.
The crops on spring gobblers are usually empty or contain very little, probably because they’re more focused on mating. This includes those I’ve killed in the evening prior to roosting.
My observations mirror Jon’s. The gobblers I have shot right after fly-down in the morning had empty crops. But the birds I have shot late afternoon or evening have always had crops stuffed full.
Gary Meinke says
Although I have hunted fall turkeys for several years, I don’t hunt enough fall turkeys to have a good idea of what is in their crops, but I do hunt a lot of ruffed grouse in Oct & Nov (I have no experience with grouse crops in winter). I have hunted ruffed grouse since 1976 but only really looked at their crops the last 20 years or so. I have looked at a lot of grouse crops.
Like the picture of the late evening turkey crop above, I find late evening grouse crops stuffed very full. In all the years of examining grouse crops I have never seen one stuffed completely full at any other time of day. This includes just before, or after a storm. I have seen some crops 1/3 to 1/2 full at various times in the morning or afternoon, just never really full. This has lead me to believe the ruffed grouse only completely pack their crops at the very end of the very end day before on the vast majority of days.
Since turkeys feed much like ruffed grouse, it would not surprise me if the had a feeding pattern that was similar. Meaning turkeys might also routinely stuff their crops very full just before roosting.
Ken McBroom says
Awesome article. I have learned a lot studying what animals are eating. Thanks