on quail nests (even a deer!), but wild turkeys weren’t among them.
So do I think it’s impossible that turkeys might eat quail chicks? No, in fact I’m pretty sure that turkeys do occasionally nab a newly hatched quail. But consider four things before you curse the turkey as the culprit. First, quail chicks grow very quickly, likely exceeding a turkey’s mouth volume within seven to 10 days. Second, even if turkeys do prey on the occasional bobwhite chick, occasional predation is not enough to cause statewide population declines. Thirdly, numerous other bird species that share the same habitat requirements as bobwhites have experienced very similar population trends. Many of these are not ground-dwelling birds, so blaming burgeoning turkey populations for limiting their populations is suspect. I think few would suggest that turkeys are climbing into shrubs and small trees to eat brown thrashers or Bell’s vireos. Finally, there are many areas throughout Missouri (as well as the entire bobwhite range) where healthy bobwhite populations coexist with robust turkey populations. If turkeys are preying on quail, why are these areas maintaining solid quail populations?
It’s all about HABITAT!
Wild turkeys are not the reason for ruffed grouse declines in the north woods, and they’re not the reason that bobwhite numbers have dropped in Missouri. While there are many factors that negatively influence small game populations, the most important factor continues to be habitat loss. The reason that hunter in Wisconsin wasn’t finding as many grouse as he used to is that the coverts he’s hunted for years have aged to the point where they no longer serve grouses’ needs. The same can be said for many areas where quail used to thrive. What were once weedy, brushy fields have aged and are now grown up into tall trees. Turkeys are more tolerant of this habitat type than quail, and turkeys will use turkey habitat. It doesn’t mean they killed or ran off the quail. The quail just aren’t adapted to these present conditions.
But if it makes you feel better…
While there’s not a fiber in my body that believes that turkeys are suppressing quail populations, I’m still going to sit against a tree this week and try to shoot one. If you’re still not convinced and want to reduce the turkey population on your property just in case, I’m sure you can find a local “turkey-control specialist” who’d be glad to help!
Audubon of Kansas has more good reading on turkeys and quail.