Wild turkeys are instantly recognizable birds that are more common in suburban yards than many birders realize. With the right preparation and steps to attract these large game birds, they can become regular visitors to your yard. However, you may also want to consider the potential problems they can cause before you put out the wild turkey welcome mat.
Why We Love Turkeys
Wild turkeys are fascinating to watch, not only for their distinctive plumage but also for their interesting behavior and social natures. The birds eat many pesky insects, and a flock of turkeys nearby can be ideal pest control for a yard.
Turkeys are also beloved for their association with the Thanksgiving holiday. Witnessing a turkey (or, even better, a flock of turkeys) in your yard has a playful, novelty effect enjoyed by all, especially young children. Turkeys' form of communication, their "gobble," is also unique and yet another reason professional and casual birders may want them on their lawn.
How to Attract Wild Turkeys
Despite the potential difficulties with attracting backyard turkeys, it can still be an enjoyable and entertaining experience if it is suitable for your property. To make your yard more turkey-friendly, it's essential to meet these game birds' survival needs.
Turkeys are omnivorous and will sample a wide variety of foods. To attract turkeys to your yard, you can provide them with a large ground feeding station containing cracked corn or mixed birdseed. Turkeys will also happily clean up any spills under hanging feeders you may have up for other birds. Keep in mind that turkeys eat a lot, so even having one or two birds in your yard (let alone a whole flock) means you'll need to buy quite a large amount of food.
Plenty of natural foods are also great options for turkeys, including nuts, berries, crabapples, snails, slugs, and insects. Letting turkeys snack on these natural foods is a cheaper alternative than paying for their hearty appetites.
Ground bird baths are the best way to provide turkeys with water. Your chosen basin should not only be low to the ground but should also be broad enough to accommodate a large turkey flock. A shallow bath will be more attractive to turkeys, and it should be kept as clean and fresh as possible. Turkeys will also drink from broad puddles or similar water sources (like a small pond).
Turkeys roost overnight up in large, mature trees, so having deciduous trees in a thick patch—or leaving a woodland border intact adjacent to the yard—will help provide their desired shelter. Tall brush, mature shrubbery, and a large brush pile or woodpile can also help provide shelter that will attract wild turkeys. Generally, turkeys don't prefer coops like chickens might.
These birds nest on the ground beneath shrubs or a brush pile, and if that shelter is already available in your yard, turkeys may choose to raise their young nearby. Typically, turkeys have large broods, so a good-sized private area for nesting is essential. It's also a good idea to leave leaf litter out once it falls from the trees in the fall, as it is the best nesting material for a turkey's shallow scrape (they will also use plant debris to line their nests).
More Ways to Attract Wild Turkeys
Even if your yard is turkey-friendly and you know there are wild turkeys nearby, they still may not be visiting. In that case, a few extra steps may be necessary to entice the birds to make an appearance.
- Create a large, wide dust bath where the turkeys can dust and preen safely and conveniently.
- Minimize the use of insecticides or herbicides that would decrease the availability of natural turkey foods.
- Provide a low stump or boulder for a guard perch so turkeys can watch for threats.
- Keep any pets indoors or closely supervised so they do not spook or harass the turkeys when they're visiting your yard.
- Be prepared to host turkeys year-round, since they stay in the same range every season.
Problems Caused By Wild Turkeys
While it can be enticing to enjoy the presence of wild turkeys in your yard, there are a few problems caused by wild turkeys that you should consider before you try to attract them.
Turkeys are very large birds, and because a single flock can have a dozen or more adults, they can quickly clean out a large feeding area. This can deprive other birds of a safe, reliable feeding area, and it can be expensive for a birder to feed wild turkeys without appropriately safeguarding certain feeders against them.
Damage and Mess
Turkeys are quite strong and can easily damage small feeders. As they explore a yard or garden, they can also damage young plants, garden produce, patio furniture, or decorative items. Feces, shed feathers, and scratched areas can also create large, unsightly messes not only in a birder's yard but in adjacent yards and gardens where neighbors may not appreciate visits from wild turkeys.
These birds can be aggressive, particularly during their breeding season, when males are competing for mates and females are protective of their young poults. If agitated, threatened, or cornered, a wild turkey may attack other large birds, pets, children, or adults with its sharp bill, beating wings, and strong talons.
As turkeys get accustomed to visiting your yard, they may begin to roam through other parts of the neighborhood that they perceive as "their" territory. This puts the birds at risk of vehicle collisions and other dangerous situations. A flock of turkeys alongside the road could impede traffic and cause other problems.
While it isn't necessarily illegal to attract new backyard birds, wild turkeys may be an exception in some areas, and it could be against local law or homeowner association restrictions to deliberately feed these birds in your area. Particularly where the overpopulation of turkeys is a concern and hunting is permitted, having turkeys in the yard can cause complications with hunting regulations.