Will you be dining on turkey this Thanksgiving? These birds’ featured role in holiday feasts may be all that many mountain residents know about them. Wild turkey populations dwindled so precipitously, that by the 1950s, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission resorted to reintroducing them to increase their numbers. Now turkeys are so plentiful they are becoming nuisance wildlife. If you understand a bit more about these birds, you can ensure that they will be welcome visitors to your landscape.
Turkeys are omnivores, so although they could help by eating some of your garden pests, they will eat beneficial insects, as well as small beneficial critters, such as lizards. In the spring, they may consume tender young plants, and turkeys scratching through garden areas may damage any plants in their path. During summer, fall and into winter, they will feast on berries, nuts and seeds. The most important thing to know about turkeys’ eating habits, though, is not to feed them! Gardeners who think that providing food for turkeys will protect their own crops or because they enjoy seeing them in their yards are creating nuisance wildlife.
Turkeys often form large flocks, beginning in the fall, and these groups have a pecking order. If turkeys become too familiar, you may find them roosting in your trees, on your home, or even on your car and threatening anyone who they perceive as lower in that pecking order. With sharp beaks and spurs they can do serious harm. During the mating season, male “Toms” may become territorial and can damage reflective surfaces, such as cars, thinking their reflections are potential rivals.
Peaceful coexistence is possible if you keep turkeys away from your gardens, home and vehicles by removing any supplemental food sources and discouraging them from being too friendly. Shooing turkeys away with noise or a garden hose are ways to keep yourself at the top of the pecking order and enjoy seeing them in your landscape.
Written by Debbie Green
For those with acreage who want to encourage turkey populations: