Wild turkeys are large birds with long legs, long necks and large fan-shaped tails. They have short, rounded wings. Male wild turkeys have dark, metallic feathers. Their wing feathers are black with brown and white stripes. Males have a red wattle (a piece of skin that hangs down under the chin), a knob on their forehead (called a caruncle) and a blackish tuft of feathers on the front of their breast. Their legs are pink, pinkish-gray, or silver-gray. They have spurs on the back of their legs that can grow as long as 3.2 cm. Their heads are red, blue, or white, depending on the season. Male wild turkeys are called gobblers.
Female wild turkeys (called hens) are smaller and lighter-colored than males. Most females do not have a breast tuft. They have a grayish head and feathers on their necks.
Male gobblers weigh 6.8 to 11 kg. Hens usually weigh 3.6 to 5.4 kg. Turkeys' weights change throughout the year depending on how much food is available. (Eaton, 1992)
Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are native to the Nearctic region. They are found throughout most of the eastern United States, and in patches throughout the western United States. They are also found in parts of northern Mexico, including in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Wild turkeys have been introduced to Germany and New Zealand. (Eaton, 1992)
Wild turkeys prefer hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes. (Eaton, 1992)
Wild turkeys are polygynous (one male mates with many females). Males try to attract females by calling (called "gobbling"). The gobbles of male wild turkeys can be heard more than 1.5 kilometers away (or about a mile). Males also try to attract females by "strutting". They do this by walking around with their tail fanned out, their wings dragging on the ground, their feathers puffed up and their throat puffed out. (Eaton, 1992)
Wild turkeys breed in early spring. Southern populations usually begin courtship activities in late January and northern populations begin in late February. Turkeys raise one brood of chicks per year.
Turkey nests are just shallow bowl-shaped holes scratched in the dirt. They are usually under dense brush or vines, or in deep grass. The female scratches out the nest and lays 4 to 17 eggs. She incubates the eggs for 25 to 31 days. The chicks are well-developed when they hatch. They are able to walk and feed themselves the day after they hatch. For the first two weeks after hatching, the female covers the chicks at night (called brooding) to protect them and keep them warm. She also protects them from predators. The young turkeys are called poults. Male poults stay with their mother through the fall. Female poults stay with their mother until spring.
Turkeys can breed when they are about 10 months old. However, male turkeys usually do not breed this young because females prefer to mate with older males. (Eaton, 1992)
Male wild turkeys do not care for their chicks. The female parent does all of the parental care. The female makes the nest, incubates the eggs, and cares for the chicks. (Eaton, 1992)
The oldest known wild turkey lived at least 13 years. Most wild turkeys probably live less than two years.
Wild turkeys are diurnal (active during the day). At night, they roost in trees. Wild turkeys do not migrate. They stay in the same area year-round.
Wild turkeys have good eyesight and hearing. They are swift runners and fast fliers. Turkeys have been recorded flying at 88.5 km/h.
Turkeys are social. During the winter, they form groups (called bands). Within each band, some turkeys may be dominant over others. In some populations of wild turkeys, each band may defend a territory against other bands. (Eaton, 1992)
We do not have information on home range of this species at this time.
Wild turkeys use calls and body signals to communicate. For example, during the spring, males will fan out their tails, strut around and "gobble" to try to attract females. Wild turkeys give at least 15 different calls. The most easily recognized call is the "gobble". Males use the "gobble" call to attract female mates and to tell other males to stay away. (Eaton, 1992)
Wild turkeys are omnivorous. They mostly eat plant material, including acorns, nuts, seeds, buds, leaves and fern fronds. They also eat insects and salamanders. Wild turkeys search for food on the ground, but they occasionally fly to the top of a shrub or a small tree to feed on fruit or buds. They usually feed for 2 to 3 hours after dawn and before dusk. (Eaton, 1992)
Wild turkeys provide food for their predators and impact populations of the plants whose seeds and nuts they eat.
We do not know of any ways that wild turkeys hurt humans.
Wild turkeys are one of the most popular game bird species in the United States. State Departments of Natural Resources earn money from turkey hunting by selling hunting permits.
Wild turkeys are plentiful and are widespread. Many states are starting to introduce them into previously uninhabited areas, increasing their range and distribution. Current estimates of wild turkey populations are around 4 million in North America (Dickson, 1995).
Wild turkeys are not legally protected. In fact, they are hunted in many states.
Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Kari Kirschbaum (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Jason McCullough (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
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