Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) broods spend the first several days of life on the ground until poult flight capabilities are attained. This is a critical period of wild turkey life history, with poult survival ranging from 12% to 52%. We measured vegetation in plots used by Rio Grande wild turkey (M. g. intermedia) preflight broods at 4 sites in southwest Kansas and the Texas Panhandle, USA, to determine microhabitat selection for ground roosting and to determine if microhabitat was related to poult survival. Hens selected ground-roost locations with more visual obstruction from multiple observation heights than random sites. Plots surrounding ground roosts had 1) greater visual obstruction; 2) increased tree decay; 3) higher percent grass, shrub, litter, and forb cover; and 4) lower percent bare ground cover than random sites. Grass, shrubs, and downed trees appeared to provide desired cover for ground-roosting broods. Poult survival increased with age of poult, size of brood, and density of shrubs 1–2 m tall. Plots used by broods <10 days old with above average survival contained more visual obstruction and shrubs than plots used by broods 10–16 days old with above average survival, signifying a shift in habitat use by successful broods as poults attain flight abilities. Density of shrubs 1–2 m tall in brood-use areas appears to be important for poult survival to 16 days of age on southern Great Plains rangeland habitats. Ground-level vegetative cover appears to be a significant factor in preflight poult survival. Provisions of ground-level vegetative cover should be considered during wild turkey brooding periods where increased poult survival is desired.
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Vol. 71 • No. 1