Wild Turkeys and Predators: What’s the Real Problem?

In nature, relationships revolve around one animal eating another animal. The food web begins with microscopic plants, extends through the various levels of animal, and results in predator-prey relationships.

Predators are opportunistic feeders that are looking for the easiest meal. They usually target specific species, but aren’t picky and will eat creatures outside of their norm.

Prey species must produce many more offspring than will survive to offset the multitude of predators that used them for food.

Wild turkeys eat insects and other small animals, so they are predators, in a sense, but they become the prey of other birds, reptiles or mammals. Wild turkey eggs and poult are threatened by several predator species including:

  • Snakes
  • Skunks
  • Crows and ravens
  • Opossums
  • Raccoons
  • Rodents
  • Dogs
  • Coyotes
  • Hawks
  • Owls
  • Foxes
  • Cougars
  • Eagles

Controlling predator populations is a controversial issue and there are situations where it may have a place, however making an impact on predator population is expensive and labor intensive. Not to mention, removing predators from a habitat completely, can off-set the balance of the ecosystem. Therefore, in order to increase the population of threatened species, biologists and conservationists turn to habitat management for a bigger impact and more results.

Habitat quality is an important part of how a species survives pressure from predators. Early successional plant stages, or those that follow a habitat disturbance and need full sunlight, provide shelter for small mammals, including rats and mice. Those habitats, full of plant diversity, can mean life or death for wild turkeys. If vegetation is sparse hen and poults are vulnerable to predators. If suitable habitat with good cover is available to the brood group, poults have a better chance of living.

What we have learned:

  • How we manage plant communities is critical to wildlife populations
  • Habitat quality and its distribution are more important than the number of predators
  • Man’s activities can help maintain herd numbers below what the habitat can sustain
  • Conservation efforts must ensure population and plant communities must remain healthy

Ultimately, the long–term solution to wild turkey populations is not dependent on predator control, but on man’s activities and good habitat management.

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