Photo: Jeanette Tasey/Great Backyard Bird Count

Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo

Conservation status Numbers seriously depleted by beginning of 20th century, but has been reintroduced to most of former range and established in new areas. Still increasing in many regions, and is now adapting to edges of suburban habitat in many eastern states.
Family Pheasants and Grouse
Habitat Woods, mountain forests, wooded swamps. Habitats vary in different parts of continent, include oak-hickory forest, pine-oak forest, cypress swamps, arid mesquite grassland, pinyon-juniper woodland, chaparral. Usually found near some kind of oak (acorns are a favorite food). Best habitat includes a mixture of woodland and open clearings.
Benjamin Franklin would have preferred to have the Wild Turkey, not the Bald Eagle, chosen as the national symbol of the United States. Although the barnyard variety is a rather stupid creature (leading to the insulting tone of the term "turkey"), the original wild form is a wary and magnificent bird. Wild Turkeys usually get around by walking or running, but they can fly strongly, and they typically roost overnight in tall trees. Turkeys were formerly considered to belong to a separate family from other chicken-like birds; there are only two species, ours in North America and the Ocellated Turkey in Central America.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by walking on ground. Often scratches in leaf litter to expose food items. Sometimes climbs in shrubs or trees to eat berries. May forage most actively in early morning and evening.


Eggs

Usually 10-15, sometimes 4-18, rarely more. White to pale buff, dotted with reddish brown. Sometimes more than one female will lay eggs in one nest. Incubation is by female only, 25-31 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female tends young, and broods them at night for several weeks; young feed themselves. Young can make short flights at age of 1-2 weeks, but not full-grown for several months.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female tends young, and broods them at night for several weeks; young feed themselves. Young can make short flights at age of 1-2 weeks, but not full-grown for several months.

Diet

Omnivorous. Diet varies with season but is mostly plant material, including many acorns, leaves, seeds, grains, berries, buds, grass blades, roots, bulbs. Also eats insects, spiders, snails. Sometimes eats frogs, lizards, snakes, salamanders, crabs.


Nesting

In spring, male gives gobbling call to attract females. In courtship, males puff out feathers, raise and spread tail, swell up face wattles, droop wings; in this exaggerated posture they strut, rattling the wing feathers and making humming sounds. One male will mate with several females. Nest site is on ground, often at base of tree, under shrub, or in tall grass. Nest is shallow depression, sparsely lined with grass, leaves.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Not migratory, but may wander at some seasons, especially in fall.

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Migration

Not migratory, but may wander at some seasons, especially in fall.

Songs and Calls
Gobbling calls similar to those of domestic turkey.