SAMUEL: Do deer and turkey eat morels?


I ran into some friends as I walked at the Morgantown Botanic Garden and they asked me whether deer and turkey eat morel mushrooms. I wasn’t sure about turkeys, but I knew that deer eat morels. Do they eat so many that morel pickers, who will be out there pretty soon, can’t find any?

That depends on several things. First, what is the deer population in the area? I live in Greystone and we have lots of tame deer walking around. It’s not the best habitat for morels, but you can find them on the edges of the golf course and in adjoining woods. Last spring I found a few behind my house. They weren’t in the thickest cover, but they weren’t in the open either.

Those mushrooms were not eaten by deer or the many turkeys I’ve seen in that area. I believe that deer density and ground cover in an area will determine whether the deer will eat a lot of mushrooms. It could also depend on other foods in the area.

My friends noted that on a wooded hill behind their house they used to find morels. They rarely saw deer and seldom saw wild turkeys. However, in recent years they see deer and lots of turkeys and no morels. I googled whether turkeys eat morels and found no instance of that happening. However, I found several people commenting that they’ve seen turkeys pecking at morels, and believed they were picking off insects that were on and inside the morels. That makes sense to me.
I also found several instances where people believed that when the turkeys scratched up the leaves looking for insects, worms, etc., they destroyed morels before they were above ground. That also makes sense to me like a flock of turkeys can tear up an area covered by leaves. Such areas look like someone went thru the area with a leaf rake, randomly moving leaves everywhere.

Thinking about this brought me to the question of whether deer and/or turkeys eat grouse eggs. As grouse numbers plummeted in the past 20-30 years, and turkey and deer numbers have increased dramatically, hunters have speculated that the grouse nests are being disturbed by deer and by turkeys. Let’s consider turkeys first.

Turkeys do not eat grouse eggs. Eggs are not part of a turkey’s diet and I found no references even suggesting that turkeys eat grouse eggs. Do they compete for food? Only slightly and not enough to cause problems for each other. Turkeys utilize forests and open fields, while grouse rarely use open field habitat. What we’ve seen in the past 30 years is simply grouse number going down because of habitat loss (not enough mature timber being cut), and West Nile virus killing birds.

Wild turkey numbers peaked and then dropped slightly in several states including Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Do wild turkeys get, and die from, West Nile virus? Studies on domestic turkeys show that this virus does not kill turkeys and there are ongoing studies to see if it attacks wild turkeys. Right now the consensus is that wild turkeys are not impacted by West Nile virus.

Do deer eat grouse eggs? Years ago a wildlife researcher named Pam Pietz was studying grassland birds in North Dakota and placed small video cameras on several ground-nesting bird nests. Four of 57 nests were invaded by deer. Apparently, the deer ate both the eggs and small chicks.

Biologists subsequently concluded that deer do not seek out bird nests, but if they stumble upon them, they may consume the eggs or small chicks. Does this mean that high deer numbers are why we have so few grouse today? Absolutely not. Don’t go there. It’s a rarity, and definitely is not the reason ruffed grouse numbers, and bobwhite quail numbers, are low.

Do we need more data on this last suggestion that deer are causing the demise of our grouse? Not really.