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Wild Turkey Nesting Habitat

Picture of turkey nest showing eggs in the nest
Turkey Nest

For optimal reproduction turkeys require good nesting habitat. Wild turkey hens begin to nest before most of the new growth begins in the spring. Therefore, at least for initial nests, hens need some residual cover from the previous year to conceal their nest from predators. Generally, nesting habitat consists of low, horizontal cover such as low brush, standing raspberry canes from last year, or anything else that obstructs visibility between ground level and about 2 feet. Be sure that there are numerous patches of this type of cover in the vicinity. If there are only a few patches, predators will learn to search those specific spots and your management can do more harm than good. These patches of brushy cover will be used no matter where they are located, but it is better if nesting cover is close to brood habitat. Later in the spring when new growth begins, hens will readily renest in areas where a nest may have failed earlier.

The following are some suggestions for managing some specific habitat types for nesting habitat. Remember that these are suggestions only, there are no hard and fast rules and you can decide what methods you wish to employ on your land.

Picture of logged over area that has been well cleaned after cutting
Logged area

Logged areas: Leave some scattered tops, but clear most of the tops and branches to allow natural regeneration. If grassy openings are lacking in the vicinity you may decide to make some of the logged area into permanent openings by seeding to grasses and legumes.

Woodlot edges: Thin (remove some of the trees to let sunlight reach the ground) up to 50 feet adjacent to open areas to encourage shrubs and brushy growth. Leave some scattered tree tops or branches for horizontal cover.

Hay fields, pastures: Many renesting hens will use hayfields. Delay mowing as long as possible (at least mid-July). Hay and pasture seed mixes should contain taller less dense grasses like timothy, orchard grass, perennial rye, and white clover. Avoid cool season grass mixtures that contain fescue as they can develop thick sod and stems which young turkeys may have difficulty traveling through. You might consider native warm season grasses like switch grasses or blue stem that mature later and can be cut for hay in late July.

Picture correctly managed old field
Old field

Old fields: Maintain shrubby patches within the old field, cut brush and trees, and leave scattered piles of branches. Mow periodically to keep much of the field in grasses or other herbaceous cover. Encourage clumps of raspberry, blackberry, goldenrod, and aster (any heavy stem herbaceous cover) by brush-hogging every two to three years.

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