Posted by Hunter Worth on Apr 6, 2023
Roosting is when wild turkeys fly up into trees to rest on a branch for the night. Much like chickens do in their coop. Understanding roosting behavior allows you, as a turkey hunter, to anticipate where the birds may be the next morning and put a plan together to set up close… just not too close!
Roosting is a natural behavior in wild turkeys where they fly up into trees for the night. They do this to avoid predators, such as coyotes and foxes, that are active when the sun goes down.
And like most birds, turkeys don’t see well in the dark. That’s why they choose tall trees with dense branches or leaves, where they can rest without fear of being attacked. Turkeys are social creatures, so they often “go to limb” in groups. Adding to it that there’s always safety in numbers.
This gobbler flew straight out of his roost tree and walked right up to Miss Purrfect. Doesn't always happen like that!
In addition, the birds reduce the amount of energy expended during the night while they’re roosting. It’s no different than how we hope to get a good night’s sleep so we’re up well before the sun and heading into the woods in the morning.
Factors That Influence Roosts
Protection: The primary factor that influences a turkey's choice in a roosting site is its level of protection from predators. Turkeys prefer to roost high above the ground, in trees with a lot of foliage to conceal themselves from predators.
Water: Turkeys need water to survive, so the proximity of a roosting site to a water source is important. Most roosting sites are within 200-300 yards of water.
Habitat: The habitat structure is another key factor in turkey roost site selection. Adult turkeys prefer to roost in larger trees that they can easily and quickly fly up into. These mature trees also provide, as mentioned, security.
Temperature: Turkeys consider temperature when selecting a roosting site. When a cold night is in the forecast, you’ll find they often choose roosting sites with southern and western exposure to grab what heat they can and avoid chilly north winds.
To scout out potential roosting sites, look for feathers or droppings under likely roosting trees. In the evenings, listen for gobbles and cackles. A hen, and sometimes even a tom, will cackle when it takes off for flight. You can get gobblers to respond on the roost with a shock gobble call.
Early season, turkeys are a little easier to see on the roost. Come full bloom and you'll only be able to hear them.
Here are some tips on how to identify potential roosting sites:
Mature trees: Look for trees tall enough to provide adequate protection from predators, and with branches spreading out widely, allowing turkeys to perch securely. Some common roost trees include oaks, pines, cottonwoods, and large maples.
Look for feathers or droppings: Depending on where you hunt, turkeys could use the same roosting site multiple times throughout the season and year. Finding feathers, droppings, and scratching is a good sign.
Listen: Listen for gobbles and cackles. If you don’t hear anything, try to make a tom shock gobble by hitting either a crow, coyote, or owl call.
Trail cameras: scout before the season with trail cameras to get a general sense of turkeys’ coming and goings.
Approaching Roosting Sites
Be sure to go in and set up early, way before first light. Approaching roost sites requires stealth and patience. Turkeys have excellent hearing, even more so when they can’t see in the dark, so any unnatural sounds can send them flying into the next county. Sometimes a turkey will fly at night. Sometimes they’ll wait for daybreak before they light out. Either way, it’s a disheartening way to start the day.
Get as close as you can without busting them. If possible, stake a decoy to give them a visual when they fly down. Make sure they will be able to easily hear you call. When the hens start tree yelping, follow suit with your own soft calls.
Roosting turkeys is a fun way to spend the evening. And by learning about the characteristics of ideal roosting sites, you can increase the likelihood of at least getting close to one the next morning. Just be quiet on the way in and remember patience is a great virtue.