Turkey Myths Debunked
Heard any myths about turkeys lately? Our panel of experts sets the record straight.
Myth #1: Wild turkey populations can be re-established using pen-raised turkeys.
Fact: Pen-raised turkeys don't have the proper survival skills to live in the wild.
"Pen-raised turkeys haven't learned behavior from wild hens that help them identify food sources, locate suitable nesting habitat and avoid predators," said NWTF East Texas Regional Biologist Scotty Parsons. "They can also bring in diseases and parasites that will harm local wild turkey populations."
Myth #2: Gobblers will follow hens to the nest to destroy the eggs.
Fact: Gobblers do not follow hens to the nest.
"In many areas of the country, folks have talked about gobblers following a hen to her nest to break up the eggs," said Bob Eriksen, NWTF northeast regional biologist. "There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that's true. Hens are extremely secretive about going to their nests. After breeding with a gobbler, they take their time before heading to the nest, and the gobbler will have lost interest and won't be accompanying her. Besides, hens visit gobblers repeatedly while breeding, so there's really no advantage for a gobbler to follow a hen to her nest."
Myth #3: Silver-phase turkeys are a result of domestic turkeys joining a flock in the wild.
Fact: Silver-phase turkeys are wild and do not come from domestic turkeys.
Some hunters believe silver-phase turkeys are a result of domestic turkeys mixing with a wild flock, but silver-phase turkeys "are just as wild as their bronze brothers and sisters," said NWTF Mid-Atlantic States Regional Biologist Dowd Bruton. Consider the coloring just a genetic anomaly. "We often hear that they're `white turkeys,' but when you actually get your hands on one you'll see they have a silver and black tint whereas a typical Eastern wild turkey will be bronze and black."
Myth #4: Turkeys eat quail and/or quail eggs.
Fact: Turkeys do NOT eat quail and/or quail eggs.
NWTF Iowa Regional Biologist Dave Whittlesey stated that as quail populations have declined and wild turkey populations have increased, some people think there must be an association between these two things.
"I have never heard of any documentation of turkeys eating quail chicks or quail eggs. Even people that are involved in quail research and management agree that it's not a factor," Whittlesey said. "Turkeys feed primarily by scratching for bugs and seeds and it's not in their nature to go after quail chicks or eggs. The reason why quail numbers have declined is due, unfortunately, to habitat loss."
Myth #5: Growing-season fire has a negative impact on turkey populations.
Fact: Growing-season fires do more good for turkeys in the long run.
"While it is an unfortunate reality that fires may burn one or two turkey nests, when you factor in all the hens and nests that are out there, fire poses a risk to a very small percentage of the overall turkey population," said Joe Koloski, Mississippi and Alabama regional biologist. "Considering its long-term benefits to turkey brood habitat and poult survival, controlled burns have an overall positive effect on wild turkey populations."
Koloski added that if a hen loses her initial nest, she will instinctively re-nest.
Myth #6: Poults drown in the rain because they look towards the sky.
Fact: Poults more often die due to exposure.
"Poults don't die because they look up when it's raining; they die because they can't maintain their body temperature because they don't have feathers yet." Brian Zielinski, NWTF Florida regional biologist. "Without fully-developed feathers to trap body heat, poults are vulnerable to exposure."
Myth #7: Gobbler beards suffer from rot due to mites and/or fungus.
Fact: Discolored and/or broken beards are usually caused due to lack of melanin.
"Microscopic examination of wild turkey beards shows no evidence related to the presence of mites or fungus," said Eriksen.
He explained that "Melanin is a dark pigment that makes turkey beards dark gray or black. When a beard has a lack of melanin, there may be a strip of orange or amber across the beard that not only affects the beard's color, but also its structural integrity, causing it to become brittle and susceptible to breaking off."
Myth #8: Herbicides used on power line rights-of-way harm turkeys.
Fact: Herbicides promote grasses used by a variety of wildlife.
"In actuality, herbicides promote low-growing native early successional plants that 80% to 90% of wildlife use," said Loran Brinkmeier, NWTF Energy for Wildlife biologist. "We need to keep the rights-of-way open so that we can have safe, reliable electric power, but at the same time we can manage those areas to help many species of wildlife. That's what the NWTF's Energy For Wildlife program is all about."
Myth #9: The amount of snow directly affects turkey mortality.
Fact: As long as they can reach a food source, turkeys can survive in deep snow.
Are you worried that a brutal winter will ruin your hopes of a great turkey hunting season this spring? Take heart, turkey fans — the birds can handle the white stuff better than you think.
"While deep powder snow can pose a problem for turkeys, snow with a firm crust on top allows turkeys to stay mobile so they can reach their food sources," said Doug Little, NWTF New England and New York regional biologist. "As long as they can pitch down off their roost and walk across the top of the snow to reach their food, the birds will be in fine shape."