Feeding Response of Wild Turkeys to Chestnuts and Other Hard Mast

Disease eliminated American chestnut (Catenea dentata), mast production from most North America forests before objective data could be collected on its use by wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). This study evaluated wild turkey use of American chestnut, chestnut hybrids, and other selected hard mast. Feeding responses of free-ranging wild turkeys to American and Chinese chestnuts was compared to 22 other mast species during winters 1993 and 1994. Turkeys were presented measured amounts of mast during 20 feeding trials. Chestnuts were readily accepted as a food. There were no differences (P = 0.0001) in preferences for 11 oak species, 4 pine species, and small Chinese chestnuts. Turkeys showed no preference (P = 0.0001) among 5 diameter classes of Chinese chestnuts presented alone, selected (P = 0.0001) corn, American chestnuts, and chinkapins, over chestnut cultivars and selected (P = 0.0001) corn, American chestnuts, red oak and white oak to Chinese chestnuts. Turkeys ate most nuts and seeds regardless of species or size when preferred foods were unavailable. Managing forests for mast diversity was suggested for improving mast production consistency for wild turkeys.

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