It takes very little land to feed a lot of game birds as long as you’re using the right game bird feed.
As wildlife managers, we do a lot to help attract and grow healthier deer, but what about the birds? I am frequently asked what can be planted for turkeys, quail, doves, ducks, etc. Most often, hunters and land managers are looking for ways to keep game birds on their property so they don’t have to leave their land to find ample food.
Growing food for birds is relatively easy and a little less complicated than growing food for whitetails. One great benefit to planting certain varieties of food for your birds is the diversity it creates, thus making it attractive to all other wildlife as well.
“Wild turkeys are opportunistic omnivores. They take advantage of a wide variety of food sources as it becomes available.”
Let’s take a look at turkeys as an example. Wild turkeys are opportunistic omnivores. They take advantage of a wide variety of food sources as it becomes available.
Through the spring and summer, an abundance of insects, berries, and plants keep turkeys in a pretty tight home range. As the fall approaches, the insects are a lot fewer, most all the berries and preferred seeds are gone, and turkeys begin to move around and transition to different food sources.
While acorns and other hard mast are a great food source for turkeys, they don’t produce heavily every year, and on drought years they can be almost nonexistent. Having a food source specifically for your turkeys that will be available at a key time of the year could be the answer to keeping your birds at home through the winter.
To have food available for your birds through the fall, winter, and into the following early spring, you need to plan ahead and plant varieties that will produce both seed and cover.
These varieties include millets, sorghums, sunflowers, and Egyptian wheat. These will all grow and mature at different heights, offering food to birds as small as quail and doves on up to pheasants or turkeys.
In the South, these warm-season grass blends should be planted in late spring or early summer. The key is to plant when there is ample soil moisture present and there are around 90 good days of growing left before a frost.
Our modern-day food plot planting practices are not very conducive to feeding quail, turkeys, etc; we plant every available open piece of ground for our deer and figure the birds will be fine.
It doesn’t take a large area to feed a lot of birds, and designating a third or a quarter acre section out of some of your deer plots for a strip or perimeter of warm-season annuals will go a long way in feeding your game birds.
Millets, sorghums, sunflowers, etc. will mature in 60 to 90 days, depending on the varieties you choose. And once the seed heads mature and dry up, they will begin to naturally drop seeds and provide feed for your birds.
As the fall turns into winter and birds really start looking for food, the stalks of the blend will weaken with the freezes and thaws, allowing seeds to be reached and knocked off by the birds.
A test plot of this blend that I planted in Alabama kept a flock of turkeys in it from September through February. Not a day went by that you wouldn’t catch them feeding in it. Some turkeys even learned that later in the winter they could step on some of the smaller stalks and push the seed head toward the ground.
This blend also makes a very good bedding area for deer when planted in larger plots. And it can also be used for a buffer or a transitional zone between the woods or bedding areas and your other food plots.
These warm-season annual seeds are all fairly small, so ground preparation should be as follows:
A no-till drills work great for these size seeds, most drills have a setting for planting millet or sorghums. If using traditional planting methods, I would suggest spraying the area to be planted a week to ten days ahead of planting with a non-selective herbicide, such as Round-Up, to kill all existing vegetation. Ground to be planted can then be disked or tilled and then cultipacked or rolled to create a firm seed bed. Seeds can then be broadcasted and lightly dragged in.
A pH of 6.2-7.0 is needed for optimum growth and seed production. However, millets, sorghums, and sunflowers are fairly tolerant of acidic soils, allowing you to plant for your birds in areas with less-than-ideal soil conditions.
Warm-season grasses such as these can use about 300 lbs of 13-13-13 per acre, or an equivalent. All the seed varieties in this blend are nitrogen lovers and it would benefit growth and seed production to implement a secondary nitrogen application four to six weeks after germination, much like you would corn.
Do your part this year and designate some ground for feeding birds. You might just keep that wandering covey of quail or flock of turkeys on your property where they will nest, raise their young, and provide hunting opportunities down the road.