Ask The Biologist

Room at the Table

Room at the Table

By Bob Humphrey

Deer and turkeys share several food sources, but their diets aren’t the same.

QUESTION: What foods do both turkeys and deer eat? –Henrik, G.

ANSWER: That’s a rather broad question, and much depends on geographical location, time of year and local habitat.

In spring and summer, both deer and turkeys eat a variety of herbaceous vegetation, which is typically available in unlimited supply that time of year. While each species has distinct preferences, there are a couple things, like clover, that they both eat.

As summer winds down, the turkey’s diet consists predominantly of insects. In some cases, a growing poult’s diet might be as much as 75 or 80 percent insects. As grasses and forbs mature and go to seed, both young and adult turkeys will eat more of those seeds.

Meanwhile, the deer’s diet shifts away from the maturing herbs, which rapidly lose palatability and nutrition. Next, both species increase feeding on soft mast, although turkeys focus on smaller types like blackberries, raspberries and grapes, while deer prefer apples and persimmons.

Later, booth species also eat grain crops, waste grain and hard mast like nuts and acorns. In fact, both species are often seen feeding together, or alternately feeding in the same areas. And while turkeys might temporarily intimidate deer away from a specific location, or vice versa, ecologically speaking, the two species never directly compete for any type of food. If they did, deer would surely win that contest as they can eat 24/7 while turkeys only feed during part of the day.

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