Upland Game

Wild Turkeys

Rio Grande turkeys occupy a few riparian areas in Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster counties, while they are widely distributed in Pecos and Terrell counties and in every county in the western Edwards Plateau. A few small flocks exist along drainages in Midland, Ector, Upton, and Crane counties. There is a general increase in numbers from west to east. Turkey populations in Jeff Davis and Brewster counties currently support a spring only season, while turkeys in Pecos, Terrell, and the Permian Basin counties provide fall and spring hunting.

Both Rio Grande and Merriams occur in the Trans Pecos. While they share some of the habitat needs of bobwhites, turkey often are able to adapt to adverse conditions. The recent droughts have negatively affected nesting success and poult production; however, trend data indicates that turkey will likely rebound during good years. The 1997 (good rainfall) poult counts were nearly as high as the 1981 poult counts. Following a wet fall and winter, we hope to see a good poult crop this year.

Habitat Requirements

Like any other species, wild turkeys require quality food, water, and cover. The manner in which these key habitat components are distributed across the landscape has a direct impact on habitat quality for turkeys.

Food

Insects and snails are probably more important to turkeys than any other food type. Animal matter collectively provides greater amounts of protein, calcium, and phosphorus than do plants. These nutrients are critical to nesting hens, and no other natural food type contains the protein level required by poults – 29% during their first month of life and 26% during the second month (Davis 1996). Poult diets consist almost entirely of animal matter during their first month of life. With increasing age, poults will consume more seeds, fruit, and “greens”.

Water

Turkeys require water daily and can obtain water from foods or free water (ponds, creeks, rivers, etc.). Turkey distribution is frequently associated with stream and river bottoms. This association is probably related to the availability of standing water but other attractive features of drainage habitats are more plentiful food supplies and taller roost sites. Important winter roost sites are often located near or over water

Cover

Nesting/Brood-Rearing Cover:

The two most important factors that influence nest site selection by turkey hens are concealing cover and areas that are relatively close to water (within ¼ mile). Tall, dense vegetation decreases detection of nests by predators, but also provides a favorable micro-climate that is critical for a successful hatch. This type of site reduces temperature extremes, maintains higher levels of relative humidity, and decreases wind at ground level.

During their first 2 months of life, poults require 3 important features in brood habitat: 1) good insect production, 2) cover arrangement that allows frequent foraging throughout the day, and 3) a cover type that adequately hides the poults but doesn’t obstruct the hen’s vision. These features must occur in a relatively small area. Weekly home ranges average only about 75 acres, and they may use less than 250 acres all summer (Speake et al. 1975, Porter 1980).

Roost Sites

Turkeys in West Texas readily roost in cottonwood, hackberry, willow, and oak trees with no apparent preference between live and dead trees. Roost trees tend to have large, spreading crowns and horizontal branches 1-2 inches in diameter. Winter roost sites are usually by a creek or in a drainage system or large valley (Thomas et al. 1966, Cook 1973). Some authors have suggested that permanent water was important in the selection of winter roost sites. But data from Crockett (1973) and Haucke (1975) indicate that tree height was more important. The correlation with permanent water could be misleading because trees along drainage systems tend to be taller. Additionally, some winter roost sites are great distances from watercourses.

References:

Baker, B. W., and M. F. Passmore. 1979. Limiting factors of Rio Grande turkeys in south Texas: a review.Welder Wildl. Found. Symp. 1:215-222.

Beasom, S. L., and D. Wilson. 1992. Rio Grande turkey.Pages 306-330 in J. G. Dickson, ed., The wild turkey: biology and management. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA. 463pp.

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