What Do Wild Turkeys Eat?

Wild turkeys are large, distinctive birds native to North America. Their diet consists of a wide variety of plant and animal matter, reflecting their opportunistic feeding habits. Here is an in-depth look at what wild turkeys eat.

A Varied Herbivorous Diet

The bulk of a wild turkey’s diet consists of plant matter. They forage on the ground and scratch through leaf litter searching for edible vegetation. Their diet includes:

  • Grasses and herbaceous plants – Wild turkeys graze on grasses, clovers, alfalfa and a variety of weedy plants. Greens provide moisture and important nutrients.
  • Acorns and tree seeds – These high-energy foods are staples in the fall and winter when other forage is scarce. Turkeys also eat seeds from pines, magnolias and dogwoods.
  • Fruits and berries – Turkeys take advantage of seasonal fruits like cherries, grapes, blackberries and more. They provide sugars for energy.
  • Agricultural crops – Turkeys will readily feed in fields of corn, wheat, oats, soybeans and other crops when available.
  • Insects and arthropods – Protein-rich bugs and insects are an important food source for poults and breeding hens. Adults also opportunistically feed on them.

Scavenging for Animal Matter

Though primarily herbivorous, wild turkeys are omnivorous and will eat animal matter when the opportunity arises. This includes:

  • Insects like grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and larvae
  • Snails, slugs and worms
  • Salamanders, small frogs and snakes
  • Bird eggs and hatchlings
  • Squirrels, mice and other small mammals
  • Carrion from carcasses of deer, livestock or other animals

Turkey vultures often lead wild turkeys to carrion sources. This provides a rich protein supplement to their diet.

Adaptations for Feeding

Wild turkeys have several key adaptations that aid their opportunistic feeding strategy:

  • Sharp eyesight to spot food at distances up to 100 yards away
  • Powerful legs and feet for scratching through leaf litter to uncover food
  • A long, dexterous neck able to reach food on the ground and on higher branches
  • A varied diet that takes advantage of seasonal abundance
  • A strong gizzard that grind up and digest all manner of food items

Unique Requirements for Poults

Poults – baby turkeys – require a diet rich in protein for fast growth and development in their first few weeks of life. Their diet consists primarily of insects and other invertebrates. Poults follow along behind foraging adults, picking insect foods out of the leaf litter. Once poults reach 4-6 weeks old, they transition over to the standard adult diet.

What Do Wild Turkeys Drink?

Water is an essential requirement for wild turkeys. They obtain necessary water from several sources:

  • Morning dew collected from leaves and grasses
  • Puddles and small pools on the ground
  • Streams, creeks and other natural water bodies
  • Farm ponds and other artificial water sources

Turkeys can go days without food, but only hours without water. They are highly dependent on available water sources within their home range. During winter, turkeys will eat snow to meet their water needs.

Ideal Wild Turkey Habitat Provides Diverse Food

Wild turkeys thrive in habitats that provide a diverse and abundant food supply. Ideal habitat contains:

  • Open grasslands for grazing and foraging
  • Woods and forests that provide tree seeds and insects
  • Brushy areas with ample berries and fruiting plants
  • Croplands and pasturelands that provide supplemental grains
  • Streams and water sources for hydration

With an abundance of grasses, fruits, seeds, greens, and insects, wild turkeys are well equipped to take advantage of the seasonal bounty nature provides. Their varied diet contributes to the adaptability and resilience of these remarkable game birds.

FAQs about What Wild Turkeys Eat

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the diet and feeding habits of wild turkeys:

How much do wild turkeys eat per day?

Wild turkeys spend much of their active daylight hours – up to 12 hours a day – foraging for food. Their daily intake can vary based on food availability. Males may eat over 1/2 pound at a feeding, while females eat 1/3 to 1/2 pound.

Do wild turkeys eat meat?

Though primarily herbivorous, wild turkeys are omnivorous and will readily eat insects, larvae, worms, amphibians, eggs, carrion and other meat when available. Protein from animal matter is especially important for poults.

What is the wild turkey’s favorite food?

Acorns and other tree seeds and nuts are a preferred staple for wild turkeys in fall and winter. Their high fat content provides more energy per bite than other foods.

How do wild turkeys find food?

Wild turkeys use their sharp vision to spot food sources up to 100 yards away. They also slowly walk and methodically scratch through leaf litter searching for hidden foods.

Do wild turkeys raid bird feeders?

Yes, wild turkeys are attracted to the high-calorie seeds in bird feeders. They will perch on or knock over feeders to access the seed. Maintaining feeders at least 5 feet off the ground helps minimize raids.

Can wild turkeys starve?

During severe winters or droughts, lack of food can lead to starvation of wild turkeys, especially poults. Supplemental feeding programs are sometimes implemented during extreme conditions to reduce starvation risk.


In summary, wild turkeys are adaptive omnivores that forage on a diverse range of seasonal plant and animal foods. Their varied diet and feeding habits allow them to thrive across much of North America. Understanding what wild turkeys eat provides insight into properly managing their habitat and populations. With adequate natural foods, water and cover, wild turkeys can continue to be a prominent game bird for years to come.