Turkey: Food and Water Needs

Turkeys are opportunistic foragers with a diverse appetite. They prefer acorns when they are available but will also eat the seeds, buds, leaves, and tubers of many other plants. Their principal natural plant foods fit into the following general categories:

Mast (acorns)

Fruits (dogwood, grapes, cherry, and hackberry)

Seeds (weeds, grasses, and some sedges)

Greens (grasses, grass-like plants, and selected annual and perennial broad-leaved plants)

Important food plants for wild turkey:

hogwort plant displaying upper stem leaves and flowers
Hogwort is a fuzzy plant, densely covered with whitish hairs. It is a common but often overlooked plant of open, dry areas.
  • Acorns
  • Blackberries
  • Bluegrass
  • Cherries
  • Chufa
  • Clovers
  • Crabgrass
  • Crotons (such as hogwort)
  • Crop residues of corn, milo, and soybeans
  • Dandelion
  • Dogwoods
  • Domestic crops (such as buckwheat, corn, cowpeas, millet, oats, sorghum grain, and soybeans)
  • Grapes
  • Grass leaves
  • Hackberry
  • Hawthorns
    Yellow wood sorrels growing in a lawn
    Missouri has four native wood sorrels. Yellow wood sorrel is both garden weed and wild edible. It has a pleasant sour taste, which is why some people call it sourgrass.
    Theodore Webster, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
  • Hickory nuts
  • Insects
  • Korean lespedeza
  • Paspalums (such as pitchfork grass)
  • Poison ivy
  • Ragweeds
  • Roses
  • Sedges
  • Smartweeds
  • Sorrels
  • Strawberry
  • Sumacs
  • Sunflowers
  • Tick trefoils
  • Wheats
  • Wild beans

Although wild turkeys acquire some water through the foods they eat, the availability of surface water will greatly improve habitat for the species. One pond, stream, or other water source per quarter section of land is usually adequate. Check out Better Turkey Habitat for specifics on constructing a suitable water source for turkey on your land.

Winter Reserves

Turkeys will make use of cultivated plots, especially during periods of persistent snow cover or shortened food supplies. A few rows of corn or soybeans left standing next to timber will ensure a convenient food source for deer and turkey alike.

Food for poults

Insects and other invertebrates are necessary to meet the poult’s acute nutritional demands. In fact, close to 90 percent of a poult’s waking life is spent feeding within the first month.

Fields and forest openings tend to have a higher concentration of insects than wooded areas, making them superior brood-rearing habitats. Take this into consideration when planning for developments. In plots with extensive forest coverage, at least 10 percent of the area should be in scattered openings.

Related Content

Establishing Food Plots

Food plots will supplement natural forage, serving as a reserve for wildlife when other food supplies run short.

Green Browse Food Plots

This page describes how to establish grass-and-legume food plots to attract wildlife to your Missouri property.

Stay in Touch with MDC

Stay in Touch with MDC news, newsletters, events, and manage your subscription

Sign up

Our Magazines

Conservationist Magazine

Our monthly publication about conservation in Missouri--free to all residents.

A merlin soars as it hunts for prey

Xplor Magazine for kids

Xplor helps kids find adventure in their own backyard. Free to residents of Missouri.