Electronic Field Guide » Featured Wildlife Species » Wild Turkey » Protection of Habitat

Prepared by Kevin Yoder and Margaret Brittingham (Ecosystem Science and Management)

The development of the Marcellus shale natural gas field requires the creation of new well pads and pipelines across the region.  The location of this infrastructure depends on geology, access, site conditions, and several other factors.  However, the siting of certain development features can be adjusted to meet landowner goals.  When one such goal is the protection of wildlife, important habitats need to be identified and avoided.  For wild turkeys, two important habitat features to protect are spring seeps and conifers.  Both are associated with winter habitats.

Spring seeps occur in saturated areas where groundwater percolates to the surface.  Unlike colder water from surface runoff, the temperature of the groundwater from spring seeps is about 50–60o F.  The stable temperature provides a year-round food source.  Spring seeps can easily be located during the coldest periods of the year by looking for unfrozen wet areas.  Seeps can also be found during the driest periods by finding wet areas.  Probable spring seep locations can be easily verified by taking a water temperature reading at the site.  Water from surface runoff is usually within a few degrees of the air temperature. 

During the winter, warm water from the seep melts snow and exposes green vegetation.  Spring seeps may provide the only food source for wild turkeys when deep snow covers the forest floor.  Invertebrates (insects), seeds, and green vegetation are turkey foods found around spring seeps.  Seeps are very important in the Marcellus shale region, where snow cover often exceeds 15 cm (6 in) for 2–16 weeks.  In addition to turkeys, spring seeps provide habitat for aquatic species and year-round food and water for other birds and mammals.  Disturbances associated with natural gas development need to be located away from spring seeps to protect not only an important food source but the water quality as well. 

Another important component of wild turkey winter range is good roosting habitat.  Though turkeys roost in both coniferous and deciduous trees, they use conifers in winter.  Most conifers retain their needles during the winter when deciduous trees have dropped their leaves.  This creates a small barrier for turkeys and other wildlife against the wind and cold winter air.  Snow depth is also less under conifers, so turkeys may be able to access food there that is not available in surrounding hardwood forests.  In Pennsylvania turkeys often roost in white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).  During the winter, turkeys roost on north or east slopes that offer protection from the predominantly westerly winds.  When snow cover begins to accumulate, turkeys move to lower elevation coves and hollows where they may find spring seeps and hemlocks.  Any necessary disturbances should be located away from these hemlock forests to maintain the thermal cover and food sources provided within these stands.