Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Salameander: Wild Turkeys Are Thankful for Wetlands

Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

Yes – wild turkeys are generally considered upland game birds. But like so many “upland” species, they also rely on wetland habitat during at least some point in their life cycle.  Turkeys are especially dependent on lowland hardwood forests and forested floodplains. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources notes that turkeys follow travel corridors along forest streams and riverine floodplains, which connect adjacent woody cover.  They recommend protection of these corridors for landowners who seek to manage wild turkey habitat.

Unlike their heavy domestic relatives, wild turkeys fly well and roost in trees at night.  A photo essay by Ducks Unlimited (see link below) notes that they may roost above water for an added measure of protection, and also make use of moist soil units and other wetlands to forage in the spring and fall when insects and young plants are most abundant in these areas.  Turkeys are omnivores, and will eat seeds and plant seedlings, insects, and occasionally small amphibians (look out salamanders!).  Restoration specialist Tom Biebighouser has also noted the importance of small wetlands to turkeys for food and water, especially in otherwise arid areas (including mountainous regions) and during periods of drought.

We almost lost our wild turkeys – numbers nationally were very low by the late 1800’s – they were extirpated from Michigan before 1900. I didn’t grow up seeing wild turkeys. But thanks to aggressive state reintroduction programs combined with effective habitat management, numbers have soared in recent decades. In Michigan, they are now considered “fully recovered” and for those who prefer their turkey wild, hunting opportunities are widespread.

True – these days, most of us acquire our holiday turkeys from either a small farmer or a large grocery store (another thing that the wild turkeys can be thankful for!).  But protecting these birds – so much a part of our wildlife heritage – is important to bird watchers and hunters alike. Many, like me, are happy just to watch a hen turkey and her big brood of poults saunter across a rural road (or more likely, stand in the middle of the road and stare at my car).  Whole flocks of the big birds are no longer uncommon along the edges of woods and fields.  Did you know that turkeys are the only poultry native to North America?  Yes, our domestic birds are descended from the wild ones. It is just good to know that wild turkeys are another species that benefit from wetland protection.  And then there are wild cranberries…

Wild turkeys, their many wetland neighbors, and the staff of ASWM, are all thankful for your commitment to wetland protection and management.   And we wish you the best in this harvest season.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Interested in reading more?

To view the Ducks Unlimited Photo Essay – “Wetland Gobblers” – click here.

For Tom Biebighauser’s post on wetland restoration for turkey habitat, click here.

For the MDNR’s Landowner’s Guide to Wild Turkeys, click here.

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One Response to Salameander: Wild Turkeys Are Thankful for Wetlands

  1. Great post! We frequently hunt turkeys in wet pine forests on the edge of wetlands – lots of swamp azalea and sedge meadows in the timber breaks.

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