Skip to main content

What Do Turkeys Eat?

What Do Turkeys Eat?

The daily routines of all wildlife, no matter what species, whether feathered or furred, are driven by one central necessary activity — and that is the need to eat.

Safety and security, mating (at certain times of the year) and of course, the need for water, are also important drivers a hunter must consider, but without rival, finding — or creating — a targeted species' primary food source is the number one way for hunters to be successful. Certainly, plenty of ink is spilled on hunting agricultural fields or oak stands, as well as planting food plots, for deer.

Pay attention to what turkeys are eating in your area and where these foods are on the property you hunt.

But what about wild turkeys?


While calling, whether hunting in the spring or the fall, is the central way turkeys are hunted, with them, as with deer or any other animal, find the food and your odds of success improves dramatically. Turkeys, even sex-crazed spring gobblers, will still roost and roam close to food sources in search of hens, busy feeding to strengthen them for producing eggs and sitting nests for long hours.


Want to hunt fall flocks? At this time of year, every turkey in the woods will be obsessed with searching for high-protein foods to provide fat stores needed to survive freezing winter temperatures. Find the food and you will find turkeys to hunt.

What Do Turkeys Eat?

Turkeys are divided into five subspecies: Eastern, Florida (also called the Osceola subspecies), Rio Grande, Merriam's and Gould's (primarily found in Mexico). No matter where they are found or what subspecies they are, wild turkeys eat basically the same types of foods allowing, of course, for regional availability of certain food types. Regardless, however, wild turkeys are opportunist feeders, meaning they will eat darn near anything they can fit down their throats.

Five subspecies of North American Wild Turkey range across the United States, southern portions of Canada and throughout the northern half of Mexico. Huntable populations of turkeys thrive in every state except Alaska. Courtesy Realtree.com.


Primarily, they dine on acorns, berries, dogwood, juniper, wild grapes, and a variety of available plant matter such as grasses that produce large heads of seeds. Waste grains in agricultural fields play a vital role. In fact, an examination of the crops of 100 turkeys that had been harvested in Wisconsin revealed 54 percent waste grains and 27 percent wild plants. Insects are also an important food, particularly for poults, that need the high protein source to grow.

A look at poult diets consists of as much as 77 percent insects according to the Iowa DNR pamphlet Wild Turkeys and Crops: Identifying Crop Depredation. Though all turkeys will eat insects, particularly grasshoppers and cicadas when available. Even small frogs and salamanders can be targeted by turkeys.

Other key foods include legumes such as beans, peas, clover, alfalfa and chufa (more on that in a moment). According to the Minnesota DNR, wild turkeys are known to "eat more than 100 different food items." There was even one account of a turkey being found with a spent shotgun shell in its crop!


By region and subspecies, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), breaks down key preferred turkey food sources:

Eastern Wild Turkey

  • acorns of red, white, chestnut and black oaks; beech nuts
  • black cherry, wild grape, spicebush
  • seeds of white ash, ironwood, water beech, hawthorn, witch hazel, flowering dogwood
  • seeds of native grasses and sedges; leaves of Carex spp., Lycopodium spp., evergreen ferns; winter buds of hemlock and hardwoods; fronds of sensitive fern, burdock; chufa
  • beetles, other insects, salamanders, snails

Florida Wild Turkey:

  • live oak acorns, black gum fruits, berries of cabbage palm, pine seeds
  • panic grasses, carpet grass, chufa
  • dragonflies, grasshoppers, caterpillars, snails

Rio Grande Wild Turkey:

  • acorns; skunkberry, doveweed, hackberry, cedar elm, pecan, prickly pear cactus
  • paspalum and other grasses
  • insects and other invertebrates

Merriam's Wild Turkey:

  • grasses, forbs, alfalfa, sweetclover, sunflowers, vetch
  • fruits and seeds of Ponderosa pine, oaks, manzanita, skunkbush, sedges; oats
  • insects and other invertebrates

Gould's Wild Turkey:

  • acorns, pinon nuts, juniper berries, fruits of manzanita, onion, skunkbush, wild grape
  • mustard forbs; grasses
  • insects and other invertebrates

Wherever you hunt, it pays to know what these plants and grasses look like and center your initial hunting efforts near them. Then, when hunting in the spring, once you hear a gobble or see turkeys on the move, you can adjust your calling tactics accordingly.

Fields with new green growth bordered by hardwood forests with remnant acorns and leaf litter that hides insects can be a great place to locate birds in early spring. Photo by Author

Remember when hunting the spring, as plants are blooming and growing taller, turkeys will focus on buds and seed heads where available. Insects are becoming more active during the warming days and will be more visible to birds in the open sun of grassy or sprouting agricultural fields and clearings.

Also, during early season hunts, don't overlook creek bottoms where the abundance of water mixed with warming weather will produce the first, sweet green shoots of growth that turkeys like to feed on after a long winter.

Grow Your Own Opportunity

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I was editor of Turkey Call magazine at the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the organization began selling chufa, a nutty, tuber that is literally like crack cocaine to wild turkeys. Above ground, chufa simply looks like a large grass field; the tubers grow just beneath the soil, and once mature (they require a 100-day growing period) and turkeys learn they are there.

Look out, flocks and individual birds will scratch the nutritious plot into raw soil digging for the chufa. To get things started, it's always a good idea to kick some up yourself and leave them scattered about.

An inexpensive pull behind disc and a spreader that attaches to an ATV is all that is needed to turn small open areas on your property into wild turkey magnets.

So where can chufa be planted?

"Generally, it can be planted wherever corn is grown," says Donnie Buckland, NWTF private lands material on the NWTF's website. But he adds, it tends to do best in the Midwest and Southeast.

Other good plantings for turkeys include Egyptian wheat and millet. The NWTF's Conservation Seed program is a great source for obtaining inexpensive seed suitable for turkey-oriented food plots.

On my farm in Virginia, where we primarily plant food plots with whitetails in mind — meaning most plantings involve mixes of clover, rye grass, buckwheat, winter peas and brassicas — we observe turkeys and kill gobblers off those same food plots every spring.

Besides offering much of the same nutrition turkeys seek, these plots also create good bugging areas as they become invaded with grasses and secondary growth in the spring. The open space also creates ideal strutting areas for toms looking to be seen by wandering hens. Some of our favorite seed mixes include Evolved Harvest 7 Card Stud, Biologic New Zealand Full Draw and the classic Whitetail Institute Imperial Whitetail Clover, which if managed properly, can grow without replanting for 3 to 5 years.

Whether you opt to plant your own turkey-attracting food plots or go the natural food source route, one thing is sure, learn what turkeys are eating in your area, and in those spots, you will definitely find turkey hunting success.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

This one simple trick will trigger more bass strikes on a jerkbait during the fall months.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Michael Cassidy and Paul Pluff talk about their elk hunt in New Mexico using the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter.

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Increase a lure’s effectiveness by pairing it with the ideal reel speed.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

This Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe makes the perfect wild game sandwich. Elk burger patties are accompanied by melted Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and Thousand Island dressing and then pressed in between two toasted and golden brown pieces of rye bread.Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe Wild Game

Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe

Kristy Crabtree - October 27, 2020

This Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe makes the perfect wild game sandwich. Elk burger patties...

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing.Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time.10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

Bucks visit them regularly and so should you.Understand How to Use Scrapes to Locate Whitetails Whitetail

Understand How to Use Scrapes to Locate Whitetails

Tony Hansen - October 23, 2020

Bucks visit them regularly and so should you.

See More Trending Articles

More Turkey

A new spring brings new guns and gear for working on gobblers.Tools for Toms: New Turkey Hunting Gear Turkey

Tools for Toms: New Turkey Hunting Gear

Game & Fish Staff - April 01, 2020

A new spring brings new guns and gear for working on gobblers.

Midwest turkeys: If you set up right, fencelines can be used to funnel birds right to you.Turn Fencelines Into Turkey Funnels Turkey

Turn Fencelines Into Turkey Funnels

Joel Nelson - May 07, 2020

Midwest turkeys: If you set up right, fencelines can be used to funnel birds right to you.

We give hunters an edge on hunting public land close to home.Public Land Hunter Magazine Now on Sale News

Public Land Hunter Magazine Now on Sale

Game & Fish Staff - July 21, 2020

We give hunters an edge on hunting public land close to home.

You sure you want to take a shot at that turkey? Not all shotguns, shotshells and shooters are created equal.How to Pattern Your Turkey Shotgun Turkey

How to Pattern Your Turkey Shotgun

M.D. Johnson - April 06, 2020

You sure you want to take a shot at that turkey? Not all shotguns, shotshells and shooters are...

See More Turkey

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now