If you’re lucky enough, there isn’t anything in the wild that connects you to the primordial existence we once all took for granted than a flock of turkeys roosting in a bare oak or cottonwood tree in the fading twilight.
You might wonder if they spend their entire day in that tree by the volume of droppings you’re likely to find piled up underneath, but no, they don’t. Turkeys are a wide-ranging animal, and amazingly fast on foot.
What Time of Day do Turkeys Roost?
Turkeys roost at night as the light fades from a pinkish hue to complete black. While they have an excellent sense of smell, and fabulous eyesight during the day, at night their vision is perhaps the most limited of all wildlife. You might say that turkeys are the inverse of bats when it comes to night movement.
Turkeys gather in groups of hens with a single dominant male. There may be a few juvenile roosters in the group, but there is always one main gobbler who makes the decisions on movement and feeding for the flock. When the gobbler decides to roost, in the early evening hours, the rest of the flock quickly follows him.
When do Turkeys Leave the Roost?
When it comes time to hit the ground to feed, he doesn’t have the same amount of control.
Hens may leave the roost in the early morning hours to lay eggs, and the gobbler will sit calmly as they drop to the ground.
When the sun peaks over the eastern horizon, the gobbler takes command again, leading the flock out of the tree, often with a showy display of flapping wings, and a feeding chortle as he hits the ground.
Turkeys are a game bird that you can hear often before you see. They move in an advancing front, often in a diamond formation, but sometimes in just an irregular pattern of seeking and finding feed.
The overriding factor with turkeys is how fast they move. When it’s time to roost in the evening they will sometimes amble to their roosting site, but at other times, when they’ve been harassed by a predator, or often during hunting season, they’ll sprint to the tree just it gets pitch black and fly quickly into position in the fading light.
Do Turkeys Always Roost in the Same Tree?
Turkeys don’t always roost in the same tree, but they prefer one over the other if they’re not disturbed.
The evening hours are the most common roosting times for turkeys, but they will roost during the day as well if the weather turns sour.
Will Turkeys Roost During the Day?
As every outdoorsman knows, an oak, cottonwood, or maple tree can provide a lot of cover in a rain or snowstorm. Turkeys use heavily leafed, roosting trees for the same purpose.
When a storm rolls in, turkeys will leave open areas where they are feeding and return to their roost. They can do this at any time of day, but if the storm is an early arrival, they’re just as apt to stay in the roost rather than go out in the weather.
If the storm arrives in the late morning or afternoon, they’ll quickly move back to the roost and the covering leaves of the tree for protection from the elements.
Roosting Turkeys Are Different Than Other Upland Game Birds
The American turkey is the largest of the group we refer to as upland game birds. While they are vastly different from pheasants, quail, or chukar, they are categorized in the same hunting classification.
Roosting turkeys are illegal to shoot in most locales. It’s just not a sporting proposition to shoot one off a limb as it sits there, you’re not supposed to shoot doves off a power line or a fence line either.
When it comes to roosting turkeys, they make a lot of noise at times, and at other times you can walk right under them and never heard a sound. When they hit the ground in the early morning they follow the gobbler, or occasionally a lead hen from the roost to a feeding area at walking speed.
Roosting Turkeys to Find a Gobbler in Hunting Season
One November turkey season in Eastern Wyoming I had a turkey tag for the area that stretches from Torrington in Goshen County to Newcastle in Weston County. I lived in tiny Lusk, Wyoming, county seat of Niobrara, Wyoming’s smallest in population.
The area I hunted that weekend was on the Cheyenne River, not really much of a river but more like a seasonal irrigation ditch. The less than mighty Cheyenne was perfect habitat for wild turkeys, and there were hundreds of them in the area.
Seeing turkeys grazing is one thing, finding where they roost is quite another. Not much grows in this area of Wyoming except native grass, and cottonwood trees, but that’s what western wild turkeys thrive on. Only bare cottonwoods, already stripped of their leaves by the Wyoming winds were suitable roosting sites.
In open, western turkey hunting, it’s easy to find roosts, just find a tree where the branches were covered with turkey droppings and the ground was a solid mix of white and gray bird droppings. You can’t confuse turkey droppings with those of other birds, such as crows or doves that gather in large groups in the same tree. The size of the turkey droppings and the gray / white color give them away.
There are two times of the day to reliable locate an active turkey roost, either early in the morning just before the sun rises, or early in the evening after the sun sets. The light is the same, just coming from different directions since one is sunrise and the other sunset.
First, you find a tree in the daylight hours that is covered with turkey droppings, then you locate a natural blind within a hundred yards of so of the tree, preferably downwind so they can’t smell you and wait. In the evening they’ll begin to gather below the roosting tree just before total darkness arrives.
It can be amazing to watch them calmly flap their wings with a few powerful strokes while jumping into the air. These are big birds, often weighing over 20 pounds but they can levitate to branches 25 feet above the ground and settle in for the night with little apparent effort.
That is classic evening roosting behavior, and something a western turkey hunter can use to get on a big gobbler. It is different in the heavily covered woods of the east, but the cover is better for the hunter, and if you find a similar sycamore or oak covered in turkey droppings, odds are you’ll be able to roost them as well from a hidden observation location.
Morning roosting is similar, but you have to be in place in total darkness, then wait for the sun to light the area to clearly see turkeys roosting where you found their droppings the day before.
Approach in the dark from downwind, set up quietly and wait for the sun to arrive. You will soon be able to see silhouettes of the big birds in the branches and then watch them as they stir for the day’s activities.
The hens usually start to drop first, with the big gobbler almost always the last one to hit the ground. If your timing is right, you’ll be able to catch light on their dark feathers as they flutter to the ground, and then spot the direction they’ll head off to for the day’s feeding.
Once you’ve verified that this is an active roosting tree, you should still wait for the birds to clear the area before you begin stalking them. If you’re too eager, and they spot you near their roosting tree, odds are they won’t come back to it.
When disturbed, turkeys will find another roosting tree, and in good turkey habitat there are always hundreds, or even thousands of trees for them to choose from. They may move just a few dozen yards to a new tree, or they move up to a mile away to reestablish a new roost.
Turkeys will reliably roost every evening, but they don’t always choose the same tree.