Wild Turkeys Foraging on Fertile Fern Fronds
With few acorns or beechnuts available due to poor crops this fall, and fairly deep snow, wild turkeys are busy foraging for any accessible food, including eastern hemlock buds, burdock seeds and the fertile fronds of sensitive and ostrich fern. These two ferns are in the same family (Onocleaceae), and their spores are borne on a stalk (referred to as a fertile frond) that is separate from the leafy vegetative fronds that are present all summer and dies back in the fall. Fertile fronds persist all winter, sticking up out of the snow as if beckoning to hungry turkeys. Upon finding a clump of these fertile fronds, a turkey will peck repeatedly at them, causing the sori (clusters of sporangia which produce and contain spores) to burst and release thousands of spores onto the surface of the snow. It is very apparent from tracks, scat and snow darkened with spores when a turkey has been feeding on ferns.