Description Male, 48" ; female, 36" Plumage of
back, wings, and underparts is dark and iridescent.
Females in the eastern United States show rufous
tips on body feathers, and those in the Rocky
Mountains, the southwestern United States, and
Mexico show white tips.
Head is bare, with rough bluish skin; male has a
snood projecting above the bill, as well as a red
dewlap (throat wattle). Males and some females have
a tuft of long, coarse feathers (a “beard”) hanging from
the upper breast. Legs are long, bare, and rather
thick; males have sharp spurs on their lower legs.
Tail is rufous and finely barred in eastern Wild
Turkeys, and white-tipped in those of the Rockies, the
southwest, and Mexico.
Habitat Oak woodlands, pine-oak forests.
Diet The diet of Wild Turkeys consists mostly of
seeds, nuts, and buds, but they also consume
insects, insect larvae, snails, and small amphibians
and reptiles. Diet varies by season and region; in
much of their range in fall and winter, they tend to eat
Wild Turkeys forage on the ground in flocks,
scratching at the ground with their feet. Wild Turkeys
swallow their food whole; they also consume much
grit, which helps grind food in the bird's gizzard.
Nesting The social behavior of the species is
highly complex. During the nonbreeding season, adult
males form their own bands. Adult females and their
male and female offspring stay together in separate
bands, which sometimes come together in flocks
numbering more than 200 birds. Within flocks,
dominance hierarchies prevail, separately for males
and females; hierarchies within male flocks show
rankings by group as well as by individual.
Sex-segregated flocks break up and courtship begins
in late January in the southern states, and in late
February in the north. At this time, individual males or
small bands of males associate with about four
females (often called “harems”); females leave the
group after copulation to nest alone. They are
polygamous, and the male gobbles and struts with
tail fanned to attract and hold his harem.
The female Wild Turkey creates the nest, which is a
wide, shallow depression lined with moss and leaves
on the ground. 8-15 buff-colored eggs, spotted with
brown per clutch. They often roost over water
because of the added protection that this location
Wild Turkey chicks (young turkeys are commonly
called “poults”) can walk and run within 24 hours. The
hen and her brood remain together for about a year,
whereupon male poults leave to join independent
Range Wild Turkeys live year-round in open woods
in most of the eastern and southeastern United
States, as well as isolated areas of the Great Plains,
Rockies, California and the Pacific Northwest.
Introduced to Europe, New Zealand and Hawaii.
Voice Wild Turkeys have a diverse repertoire of
clucks, yelps, hisses, rattles, and purrs. Breeding
males utter familiar gobbling calls, often
simultaneously with each other.
Discussion They travel by walking on the ground,
but can also run rather swiftly. Despite their great
mass—up to 23 pounds or more for males—they are
strong short-distance fliers. They take to the air with a
few steps, a few hops, then a leap; they can ascend
quite steeply if necessary. They can fly for a maximum
distance of about one mile. In flight, Wild Turkeys can
attain speeds as high as 60 miles per hour. Wild
Turkeys can also swim, extending their necks and
paddling with their legs.
Although the Wild Turkey was well known to American
Indians and widely used by them as food, certain
tribes considered these birds stupid and cowardly
and did not eat them for fear of acquiring these
characteristics. By the end of the 19th century, the Wild
Turkey had been hunted almost to extinction in much
of its original range. Now, with protection, restocking
programs, and the return of the mature forests favored
by turkeys, this species is making a marked
comeback. It is now common in areas where it was
totally absent a few decades ago.
January 2008 My first sighting
A small flock of six turkeys ambled in
from the alley, past my office windows
and then headed up the hillside past
Once they hit the deep snow, the
wings went into action. It was
impressive to watch them manuever
through until they got up higher into
the clear tall grasses. (see below)
Out of the snow and into tall grasses,
their plumage is good camouflage.
January 2009 My second sighting
The new year was rung in by the
arrival of a flock of thirteen turkeys.
They continued their visits iinto March