Photo: Jeanette Tasey/Great Backyard Bird Count

Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo

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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult female
  • adult male
  • adult male
  • adult male
  • adult female with poult
  • immature (1st yr)
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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

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

Migration

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

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

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

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Gobbling calls similar to those of domestic turkey.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Pheasants and Grouse Upland Ground Birds

Wild Turkey

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds