True predators actively search and kill living prey. These include bobcats, hawks, owls, eagles, and all snakes. However, many predators of turkeys are more generalists and consume non-animal matter such as plants and seeds, and insects as well as meat secured from stalking and killing prey. These include coyotes, wild pigs, gray and red foxes, rodents, and crows. The most significant nest predators include opossums, raccoons, and skunks. Finally, predators such as feral dogs and cats may be more harmful to turkeys as a natural predator. Regardless of the predator, most are opportunistic; they can detect prey by sight, sound, smell during their normal travels and searches for food, and their capture of wild turkeys is usually incidental to pursuit of any suitable prey.
Populations densities of many of the more adaptable predators of wild turkeys may be as high or higher today than previously. Additionally, increased urbanization has resulted in more feral cats and dogs.
Predation is an important component of a turkey’s life cycle. Larger predators such as the bobcat, coyote, and fox kill adult hens and even gobblers. In contrast, smaller predators, including skunks, raccoons, and opossums, and snakes, are primary nest and poult predators.
The impacts of predation upon turkey populations vary by season, location, and land use patterns. Predation may significantly impact turkey populations when populations are low, nesting cover is poor, food and/or water scarcity forces turkeys into unfavorable range, the number of other prey species is low, birds are exposed to severe weather for prolonged periods of time, and predator populations are abnormally high.
The wild turkey has existed and survived with predators and predation for centuries. Management should center as much around managing man’s impact upon turkey populations as managing predators of the wild turkey.