If there’s one thing that everybody associates with birds it is trees. Birds live in trees, of course, and most species spend so much time there they might as well come from the trees themselves.
But not all birds nest or rest in trees, and some birds aren’t even able to reach the branches in them.
Looking at turkeys, which aren’t particularly adept flyers, it makes the question of whether or not turkeys spend most of their time on the ground when in the wild. So, do turkeys sleep in trees?
Yes, wild turkeys will sleep in trees. Turkeys have relatively poor vision and are highly vulnerable to predators at night, and they seek refuge in the branches of trees just like other birds.
Domestic turkeys typically sleep in a coop or other covered structure, but they might take to trees if they are allowed to.
You can color me surprised. I don’t know why, but I always thought that turkeys just slept on the ground.
They are so big and ponderous, and such relatively slow flyers I didn’t really think they could maneuver up into the trees effectively in order to roost and rest there.
But it seems that is not the case. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything else you need to know about turkeys roosting in trees.
Why Do Turkeys Sleep in Trees?
For the same reason that all birds sleep in trees: protection from predators. Turkeys are especially vulnerable since they are large and can’t fly away quickly or easily when ambushed.
Thus, they take to the branches of trees where they cannot be reached by predators on the ground. Turkeys also have poor night vision, making them even more at risk during hours of low light.
Turkeys usually roost in large flocks and tend to stick close together which is why you might see so many turkeys at once in the wild.
The higher up in a tree that a turkey perches, the further away it will be from potential intruders like foxes and coyotes. This makes them much safer while they get some shut-eye during the nighttime hours.
How Do Turkeys Get Up in Trees?
By flying. Although turkeys don’t fly particularly well compared to other birds, they’re still able to get up in the trees.
Most turkeys can easily reach heights of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) and some might even be able to reach 30 feet (9 meters) or more in a single bound.
In any case, they can fly from branch to branch in order to scale a taller tree, or even fly from tree to tree.
The way that turkeys roost is much different than other birds as well. They tend to perch in an upright position rather than hunker down on a branch while tucking forward like most birds do.
This serves two purposes: first, it makes them easier to spot by predators below and second, it gives them a better view around their surroundings so they can keep an eye out for any potential danger.
How Long Does a Turkey Sleep?
On average, a turkey will sleep for about 8 hours each night, retiring at sundown and waking up at first light when they can see better.
Turkeys, like most birds, follow strict schedules thanks to their instinctive body rhythms.
Can a Turkey Sleep in Any Tree?
Pretty much, yes. Turkeys are not picky when it comes to where they rest, and they can sleep in most types of trees that have branches wide enough and sturdy enough to support them.
However, the ideal tree for a turkey roost is tall, thick and strong as this provides the greatest protection from predators.
Turkeys can weigh up to 25 pounds (11 kilograms), so a branch needs to be capable of supporting that kind of weight.
Therefore, you are most likely to find turkeys roosting in mature oak, pine and other evergreen trees.
What Happens if a Turkey Cannot Find a Suitable Tree by Nightfall?
If a turkey cannot find a suitable tree to sleep in, they will resort to sleeping on the ground where they are much more vulnerable.
For domestic turkeys, this is why it is important for humans to provide them with safe and comfortable roosting areas.
Do Domestic Turkeys Sleep in Trees?
Some domestic turkeys might take to sleeping in trees if given the opportunity or unable to get into a coop or other cover at night, but it is not a certainty.
However, if allowed outside during the day and then given access to some kind of perch or tree branch, you may find that your domestic turkeys prefer these areas over any others for naps and resting.
Also keep in mind that, while turkeys don’t fly as well as other birds, they can still easily hope fences and reach your roof or other high spots, not just tree branches!
On the other hand, many domestic turkeys are too heavy and undeveloped compared to their wild kin, so they might not even be able to reach the height of a tree branch in order to roost.
What Can You Do to Safely Get Your Turkey Down Out of a Tree?
If you find your domestic turkey roosting in a tree, be careful when trying to get them down. Turkeys can panic and injure themselves if startled, and just because they can fly does not mean they will nail the landing.
Turkeys are so big and heavy that there’s a lot more risk for them whenever they take a tumble.
If at night, the very best thing to do is to wait until morning and see if they come down on their own before attempting to retrieve them.
Turkeys are creatures of habit, and this makes it easier for you to catch them without being too much of a nuisance. When they are ready for water or breakfast, they will come down!
Alternately, you could try to use a ladder and go up there to get the big bird yourself. You must be very careful not to startle them, as this could cause the turkey to jump and injure themselves as above, or even start heading up higher in the tree!
And there’s always the possibility of you falling and getting hurt, too.
A better approach is to use a two person team, one equipped with a stick that can reach the turkey, and another with a tool handle or improvised device that as a cross piece at one end, large enough for the bird to stand on.
Then all you need to do is hold the crossed tool in front of the turkey’s feet while the helper prods the turkey into stepping on to it. Then the bird can be safely lowered to the ground under control.
If a turkey is really high up in a tree, you might need to wait for them to hopefully come down on their own.
How Can You Keep Your Turkeys Out of Trees?
If you have domestic turkeys, you can keep them from flying up into trees by not allowing access to tall structures or even any kind of high perching place.
Keeping them in a run well away from trees is a good start. You might also want to clip the wings of your turkey flock if they are prone to taking flight, though larger, heavier birds rarely fly well enough to mandate the practice.
You should also consider lopping or trimming back the lower branches of trees if they are nearby, or if you allow your turkeys to free-range, so that they won’t be so tempted to make an attempt at reaching them.
As always, make sure your turkeys and other domestic birds have a snug shelter to retire to as the sun sets. If they have a known safe and comfortable place to go to, they won’t want to hit the branches!
A few common-sense practices and a good enclosure or other secure areas can help keep your domestic turkeys safe, happy and down out of the trees.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.