Wild Turkey

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Wild Turkey
Meleagris gallopavo

    Class: Aves
    Order: Galliformes
    Family: Phasianidae

Depending on lighting the wild turkey is a large dark brown to black or grayish bird with a plump round body & tail with longer legs & neck with a small head. Males, have a red head, neck, and beard (wattle). When the tail is spread it looks like a large fan.

Male: 11-37 lbs, 5-17 kg
Female: 512 lbs, 35 kg
Male: 4050" 100125 cm
Female: 30-37", 76-95 cm
Wingspan: 4-5'
Weight:5 1/2-19 lbs, 2.5-10.8 kg

Coloring: while mostly over all dark the feathers have areas of red, purple, green, copper, bronze, and gold iridescence, females duller than males. Male turkeys have a long, dark, fan-shaped tail and glossy bronze wings. The reddish head is featherless, red throat, with red wattles on the throat and neck. A turkey can have as many as 6000 feathers.

Juvenile males have a shorter beard and the tail fan has longer feathers in the middle. The adult male's tail fan will be one length.

Both male and female can have a beard, a tuft of coarse hair, though females will be shorter and thinner. Turkeys have three toes in front, with a shorter, rear-facing toe in the back. Males have spurs.

Juvenile males are called jakes, young are called poults, adult males toms or gobblers, females hens.

Gobbles, clucks, putts, purrs, yelps, cutts, whines, cackles, and kee-kees. In early spring, male turkeys, gobble to announce their presence to females and competing males. The gobble can carry for up to a mile. Males also emit a low-pitched "drumming" sound; produced by the movement of air in the air sack in the chest, similar to the booming of a prairie chicken. In addition they produce a sound known as the "spit" which is a sharp expulsion of air from this air sack. Hens "yelp" in answer to the toms to let them know their location. Males often yelp in the manner of females, and hens can gobble, though they rarely do so. Immature males often yelp.

Despite their weight wild turkeys are agile fliers with speeds up to 60mph and as far as 1/4 mile. They usually fly close to the ground but will fly beneath the canopy top to find perches.

Habitat and range

The Wild Turkey is native to North America and is the heaviest member of the heavy-bodied ground-feeding birds (Galliformes). It is the same species as the domestic turkey, which was originally derived from a southern Mexican subspecies of Wild Turkey (not the related Ocellated Turkey). During the 16th Century, the major trade route from the Americas and Asia required the goods to go to Constantinople in Turkey before being sent to Britain. The British at the time therefore, associated the Wild Turkey with the country Turkey and the name stuck.

Turkey do not migrate and can be found in 49 states, Mexico & Canada. They will travel in flocks and are often seen in wooded areas, particularly where nut trees are found, next to farm fields, pastures, open wooded areas, brushy grasslands, and river bottoms. Wild turkeys prefer hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes. They seemingly can adapt to virtually any dense native plant community as long as coverage and openings are widely available. You may also see them along roads and in woodsy backyards. Wild turkeys will form flocks of six to 40 birds that roost in trees each evening.


Nuts including acorn, hazel, chestnut, hickory, beech nuts, pecans, and pinyon pine. Berries such as juniper, gooseberry and bearberry. Ferns, a wide variety of grasses & grain, buds, insects, roots & fruit. Amphibians and small reptiles such as lizards, frogs, salamanders, ground beetles, snails & snakes.
Poults: insects, berries, and seeds.

Generally early morning and late afternoon wild turkeys forage on the ground or climb shrubs and small trees to feed. Wild turkeys often feed in cow pastures, back yard bird feeders, croplands after harvest to scavenge seed on the ground and forest floors. When deep snow covers the ground, they eat hemlock buds, evergreen ferns, spore-covered fronds of sensitive ferns, club mosses, and burdock. During the spring they may dig up plant bulbs if nuts are scarce. In late spring and summer, Wild Turkeys strip seeds from sedges and grasses, occasionally supplementing their plant diet with salamanders, snails, ground beetles, and other insects. They use their strong feet to scratch leaf litter out of the way. Like most birds they swallow grit to help digest their food.


When males are excited, a fleshy flap on the bill expands, the wattles and the bare skin of the head and neck all become engorged with blood, almost concealing the eyes and bill. Its head will turn blue, when ready to fight, it turns red.

In early spring, males gather in clearings to perform courtship displays. They puff up their body feathers, flare their tails into a vertical fan, and strut slowly while giving a characteristic gobbling call. At night, turkeys fly up into trees to roost in groups.


Courtship begins from April to May, when turkeys are still flocked together in winter areas. Males are polygamous, mating with as many hens as they can. Male wild turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings. This behavior is most commonly referred to as strutting. Their heads and necks are colored brilliantly with red, blue and white. The color can change with the turkey's mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited. They use gobbling, drumming/booming and spitting as signs of social dominance, and to attract females.

Males may be seen courting in groups, often with the dominant male gobbling, spreading their tail feathers (strutting), drumming/booming and spitting. In a study, the average dominant male that courted as part of a pair of males fathered six more eggs than males that courted alone. Genetic analysis of pairs of males courting together shows that they are close relatives, with half of their genetic material being identical. The theory behind the team-courtship is that the less dominant male would have a greater chance of passing along shared genetic material than if it were courting alone.

When mating is finished, females search for nest sites. Wild Turkeys nest on the ground in dead leaves at the bases of trees, under brush piles or thick shrubbery, or occasionally in open hayfields. She scratches a shallow depression in the soil about 1 inch deep, 811 inches wide, and 913 inches long, engulfed with woody vegetation. Hens lay a clutch of 417 eggs, usually one per day. The egg length is 1-3 in 1-2 in wide. They are pale yellowish tan, evenly marked with reddish brown or pinkish spots. They have one brood per year.

The eggs are incubated by the hen for 25-31 days. The poults are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of hatching and covered with tawny, brown, pinkish, and gray down. They are fed for a few days but leave the nest in 1224 hours. Young turkeys quickly learn to fend for themselves as part of a flock which can include dozens of animals. The young, are able to fly in three or four weeks, but they stay with the hen up to four months.

Life Span

The average life span in the wild is three to four years. Predators of eggs and nestlings include raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, raptors, groundhogs, other rodents, and snakes. Predators of adults and young include coyotes, bobcats, cougars, eagles and Great Horned Owls.

When approached by potential predators, turkeys and their poults usually run rather than fly. Females tend to fly while males tend to run. Occasionally, if cornered, adult turkeys may try to fight off predators and large male toms can be especially aggressive in self-defense. When fighting off predators, turkeys may kick with their legs, using the spurs on their back of the legs as a weapon, bite with their beak and ram with their relatively large bodies and may be able to deter predators up to the size of mid-sized mammals. Occasionally, turkeys may behave aggressively towards humans, especially in areas where natural habitats are scarce, though attacks can usually be deterred and minor injuries can be avoided by giving turkeys a respectful amount of space. At sundown turkeys fly into the lower limbs of trees and move upward from limb to limb to a high roost spot.

The range and numbers of the wild turkey had decreased at the beginning of the 20th century game managers estimate that the entire population of wild turkeys in the United States was as low as 30,000. Game officials made efforts to protect and encourage the breeding of the surviving wild population. As wild turkey numbers rebounded, hunting was legalized in 49 U.S. states current estimates place the wild turkey population over 7 million. Today, flocks are also found in Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand.

The Wild Turkey, throughout its range, plays a significant role in the cultures of many Native American tribes all over North America. Outside of the Thanksgiving feast, it is a favorite meal in Eastern tribes. Eastern Native American tribes consumed both the eggs and meat, sometimes turning the latter into a type of jerky to preserve it and make it last through cold weather. They provided habitat by burning down portions of forests to create artificial meadows which would attract mating birds, and thus give a clear shot to hunters. The feathers of turkeys also often made their way into the rituals and headgear of many tribes. Many leaders, such as Catawba chiefs, traditionally wore turkey feather headdresses. Significant peoples of several tribes, including Muscogee Creek and Wampanoag, wore turkey feather cloaks. The Turkey Clan is one of the three Lenape clans. Movements of wild turkeys inspired the Caddo tribe's turkey dance.

Fun facts

When they need to, Turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking.

Winter groups sometimes exceed 200 turkeys.

Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird of the United States. But it was Thomas Jefferson who opposed him. It is believed that Franklin then named the male turkey as 'tom' to spite Jefferson. (see #20)
Californians are the largest consumers of turkey in the United States. 22

In the first Thanksgiving celebrations a thanksgiving feast was organized in which there were dishes like boiled turkey, corn, fruits, vegetables, along with fish, which was packed in salt, and meat that was smoke cured over fires.

The Eagle, Ben Franklin, and the Wild Turkey

Hunt the Turkey Game

Prepare for the game by drawing & coloring a turkey picture by tracing outlines of your hand.

To play, everyone leaves the room except the person who is it/turkey. (youngest person present)

The turkey hides the turkey picture in the room.

Hunters return and begin the hunt.

When the turkey has been found, the hunter now gets to be the turkey and hide the picture.

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