Understanding what wild turkeys eat will help you tremendously in locating more birds and ultimately filling your turkey tags.
Wild turkeys are classified as opportunistic omnivores, meaning they eat a wide variety of plants and insects. Throughout the year, they may dine on hundreds of different plant and invertebrate species. However, at any particular time of the year, their diet consists mainly of a few foods that are readily available at that time. All species of wild turkeys eat a combination of mast (hard and soft fruit from woody plants), green forage, seeds, agricultural crops, and animal matter.
The wild turkey’s main source of food, by far, is plant material -- as much as 95% of the turkey’s diet may come from plants. The most common foods throughout the year are grasses, herbaceous green leaves, and seeds. In fall and winter, acorns, fruits, and berries become very important. They may feed on certain types of roots and tubers. And, in some parts of the country, agricultural crops, such as corn, wheat, and fruit, play a crucial role in supporting local wild turkey populations.
Insects are a smaller, but important, component of the wild turkey’s diet. Depending on the area and the time of year, they may eat grasshoppers, dragonflies, snails, beetles, or salamanders. During their first four weeks of life, young wild turkeys (called “poults”) consume high amount of insects in order to get much needed protein.
Wild turkeys almost always feed on the ground, and only on rare occasions will they feed while roosted in trees. During the spring, they feed in the top layer of vegetation, picking at herbaceous plants and stripping food from larger plants. In the fall, they tend to do a lot more scratching, searching for acorns or tubers beneath the surface layer.
Turkeys are constantly on the move while feeding, and tend to stay in groups while they eat. While they may feed during any part of the day, there are two distinct heavy feeding periods: two to three hours after leaving the roost in the morning, and two to three hours before sunset.
Wild turkeys have some of the longest intestines of all birds, allowing them to extract nutritional value from even extremely coarse vegetation. Food is ingested through the esophagus and stored temporarily in an expandable organ called the crop. It then continues into the gizzard, an impressively strong organ that crushes and grinds the food into a digestable pulp. Typically, only tiny, hard seeds make it through the gizzard intact.
For a more comprehensive list of wild turkey plant foods by region, check out this this page from Bowhunting.net, which has a section on Turkey Diet by Region.