Ask Dr. Tom
A burning question
I hunt in an area that has waist-high prairie grass. The owner of the property burned a section of the property to promote regrowth. The area was still bare during hunting season. Will turkeys come to this area to feed because it is now open? Or will they stay away from it because it is so open? The birds I heard seemed to be in the unburned prairie grass.
Eric Short, southeast Iowa
If a burn destroys a nest, the hen will renest and lay more eggs.
We are often asked about how prescribed burning affects wild turkeys, especially when the burn happens during or just before hunting season. People are also concerned about hens losing nests during growing season burns.
Turkeys are attracted to burns, where they feed on exposed insects and seeds. They often show up the day after a burn, when smoke is still heavy in the air. Burning promotes the fast growth of native warm-season grasses and forbs preferred by groundnesting birds such as wild turkeys and quail, while killing and reducing competition from small trees and shrubs. If a burn destroys a nest, the hen will renest and lay another clutch of eggs. Burned areas germinate new plants very quickly as the nutrients in the ash are quickly taken up in the soil. The new lush growth is highly attractive to hens with poults. Hens will later choose these areas for their nests over areas that have not been burned. The growth will also attract many insects, critical for young poults in their first weeks of life.
While a growing season burn may cause birds to leave the area until the fire passes, when you consider the positive long-term effects on the health of your flock, you will see more turkeys in that first year and in the future.
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