Take the time to prepare your turkey food plots
At this time of year, the questions usually start pouring in on how to attract turkeys for the upcoming spring season.
Most people don’t like to hear that many food sources turkeys love to eat should have been planted the previous summer for seed production and cover. Restoring native habitat for game birds like turkey and quail is also a growing section of wildlife management.
In my opinion, loss of habitat may be the number one factor in a list of many reasons for why quail numbers declined steadily over the last several decades. On the other hand, wild turkeys have enjoyed remarkable success in recent years. Now turkey populations are abundant across most of the United States.
Whether you want to attract turkeys and keep them on your property or wish to provide food and cover for a couple coveys of quail, there are several easy to plant turkey food plots that can be very beneficial. Millets, sorghum, and sunflowers are all easy to plant warm-season annuals. They can be planted as stand-alone crops or as a blend with other crops.
Plant Now, Feed Later
Many people want to plant something that provides food for wildlife within a couple weeks. That can work for deer, but it really doesn’t work that way for birds. For game birds, people really need to try to create food, cover and brood habitat essential for their survival. Giving the birds all they need through the changing seasons will keep them at home and discourage them from wandering to neighboring properties.
Millet, sorghum, sunflowers and other seed-producing warm-season annuals need 70 to 100 days of growth to mature and produce seed. As the plants mature and dry up in late summer and into the fall, they naturally begin dropping seeds. The maturity rate for plants depends upon what varieties are used. Of course, weather also plays a factor.
These warm-season annuals are relatively easy to grow and can be planted by broadcasting onto a prepared seedbed or by using a no-till drill or planter. I prefer a no-till drill for bird plots for a couple of reasons. The rows make it easy for smaller game birds like quail to navigate through an area. In addition, drills disturb the soil considerably less than using a disc or tiller. As a result, the planter usually has fewer problems with weeds.
If using traditional planting methods, I suggest spraying the area to be planted a week to 10 days before planting the seeds. Use a non-selective herbicide such as Round-Up to kill all existing vegetation in the plot. Ground to be planted can then be disced or tilled and then cultipacked or rolled to create a firm seedbed.
Seed can then be broadcast and lightly dragged in or rolled back over with a cultipacker. A pH range of 6.0 to 7.0 is usually needed for optimum growth and seed production. Since millets, sorghums, and sunflowers are fairly tolerant of acidic soils, people can plant them for birds in areas with less than ideal soil conditions. For fertilizer, I recommend using 13-13-13 at around 300 pounds per acre or an equivalent. These non-legume warm-season annuals are nitrogen lovers and it would benefit growth and seed production to implement a secondary nitrogen application four to six weeks after germination.
A more long-term way to provide the lifecycle needs and improve habitat for birds is by using native warm-season grasses and plants. Varieties such as big bluestem, Indian grass, Maximillian sunflower, switchgrass, New England aster, Virginia wild rye and partridge pea are great choices. These native grasses and plants not only provide great nesting cover and feeding areas but also are very attractive to insects that are crucial to young birds. The bunch grasses provide open areas on the ground that makes it easy for young birds to traverse.
“Another big upside to planting game bird habitat, almost all other forms of wildlife benefit from it. I have found that whitetail deer love to use such areas for fawning.”
It doesn’t take an area with a large acreage to plant something effective for birds. Strips along the sides of roads, perimeters of large food plots, clearings in the woods and places like that all make suitable locations to plant something for birds.
Another big upside to planting game bird habitat, almost all other forms of wildlife benefit from it. I have found that whitetail deer love to use such areas for fawning. Many small critters, such as rabbits, really like to use these plots as well.
If you want to take your wildlife management to the next level, consider planting some areas specifically for birds to improve the overall diversity on the property. Even though you may only have an occasional covey of quail currently, there is no better way to help them multiply that by creating the food, cover and nesting areas they need.
Turkeys are somewhat creatures of habit. If a person provides them with year-round food and cover, they will not leave that area.