Common Name — Gobbler (male).
Largest of the
upland game bird species, the wild turkey is a dark bird with a naked,
The overall coloration of the male, ortorn, is brownish black with an iridescent sheen. The wings have black and white barring. The long tail has a wide, black band near the end, with a tip of varying color. The torn has folds of red skin, called wattles, under the chin; fleshy, wart like caruncles on the neck; and a fingerlike snood dangling beside the bill. A 4- to 10-inch projection of hair like feathers, called a beard, extends from the breast.
The hen is smaller and browner than the torn, and lacks the tom’s head adornments. The juvenile male, or jake,and the juvenile female, or jenny, resemble hens by fall, although they have a duller, more mottled color. But after the first year, jakes are larger than hens, and have begun to develop a beard.
Important Subspecies— There are five subspecies of wild turkey in North America:
The eastern wild turkey(M. gallopavo silvestris) is the most abundant and most heavily hunted of the five subspecies. It is found throughout most of the eastern United States. Its population is increasing because of introductions, such as those in the Pacific Northwest and North Dakota. It has a copper-bronze sheen, and its tail has a chocolate-brown tip.
Merriam’s wild turkey(M. gallopavo rnerriarni) is found in much of the western United States, from Montana to Arizona. It is the most adaptable of the five subspecies, and its numbers and range have grown due to stocking efforts. It has a purplish bronze sheen, and a buff-tipped tail
The Rio Grande wild turkey(M. gallopavo interrnedia) is an open-country bird found primarily in the south-central United States from Nebraska through Texas and into Mexico. Its range has expanded westward thanks to stocking efforts. The overall body sheen is a pale copper, and the tail has a yellowish tip.
The Florida wild turkey (M. gallopavo osceola) is found only in Florida, and has a relatively small, stable population. It is similar in appearance to the eastern wild turkey, but has darker wings and an iridescent, greenish gold body color. It may hybridize with the eastern turkey, where the ranges of the two subspecies overlap.
Gould’s wild turkey (M. gallopavo mexicana) is found in extreme southern Arizona and New Mexico and into northern Mexico. It resembles the Merriam’s subspecies, but has a bluish green sheen and a white-tipped tail. The population is stable.
Size — Toms measure 36 to 44 inches long and weigh 17 to 28 pounds; hens, 26 to 34 inches and 8 to 12 pounds. Subspecies vary slightly in size: the eastern wild turkey is the largest; the Florida, the smallest.
Habitat — Turkeys are birds of the big woods. An individual bird requires from a few hundred to more than a thousand acres of ground with a combination of trees for roosting, a reliable water source and an open feeding area. In spring and summer, when the birds are nesting and raising broods, they seek openings in or alongside the woods, with dense, grassy cover at least 3 feet high. In winter, they prefer more densely wooded habitat.
Birds in the East generally inhabit dense, mixed-hardwood forests and river bottomlands adjacent to agricultural lands. Birds in the West and South prefer pine and oak forests near streams. Florida birds are found in oak and pine woods, palmetto flats and cypress bottomlands.
Movement — Wild turkeys move seasonally between nesting and wintering areas, but seldom travel more than two miles.
In mountainous areas, wild turkeys occupy higher elevations in spring and summer, and lower elevations in fall and winter, sometimes moving as much as forty miles between ranges.
Food Habits — Opportunistic feeders, wild turkeys subsist mostly on plant material, including fruits, acorns and other nuts, small grains, and the seeds, shoots and roots of grasses and various other plants. They also eat many types of insects, small amphibians and even lizards. Turkeys generally fly down from roosting trees to feed in early morning, and return to the trees in the evening.
Breeding — Toms begin their breeding displays in early spring while still gathered in flocks in the wintering areas. With tail fanned, feathers fluffed and wing tips dragging, the tom struts boldly while emitting low-pitched hums. He repeats this display, coupled with the characteristic gobble call, until he attracts a hen. The most dominant toms breed with the majority of hens, continuing to display after each mated hen goes off to nest. By late spring, breeding is nearlycomplete and the male’s display begins to taper off.
The hen becomes very secretive at nesting time, distancing herself from other hens. The nest site is usually under or near a log, bush or clump of vegetation. She scrapes a shallow depression, lines it with leaves and twigs, then lays 8 to 14 buff-colored, brown-speckled eggs, which hatch in about 27 days. The young poults grow quickly and can make short flights within 8 to 10 days.
Social Interaction — Wild turkeys gather in wintering flocks that range from less than a dozen to several hundred birds. In spring, just before the mating season, this large flock divides into three sexually segregated groups: one consisting of hens, another of jakes and a third of toms. In the latter, a single torn emerges to do most of the breeding.
Wild turkeys are extremely vocal birds with many different calls, particularly during the breeding season. Toms gobble and "putt," and hens yelp. Lost poults, and occasionally other birds, make "kee-kee" calls.
Population — Increasing. Because of restoration efforts by wildlife management agencies, North America has more wild turkeys now than it did during presettlement days. In some states where wild turkeys were once rare or absent, there are now huntable populations.
Hunting Strategies — Wild turkeys have excellent sight and hearing, making them one of the wariest of all game birds. A hunter dressed in full-body camouflage can successfully use calls to lure toms into gun range. Aim for the head and neck, because your shot may not penetrate the thick layer of body feathers. For more spring hunting tips, click here.
Eating Quality — Excellent; many consider the meat better than that of domestic turkey.