Wild turkey

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The wild turkey (meleagris gallopavo) is a bird found throughout North America except for Alaska. Both male and female turkeys range between 43.3 to 45.3 inches or 110 to 115 centimeters. Wing span for both sexes range between 49.2 to 56.7 inches or 125 to 144 centimeters. Weights range between 88.2 to 381 ounces or 2,500 to 10, 800 grams.[1] Males have breast feathers tipped with black. The male turkey will have a blue head and neck. The wattle is pink. Breast feathers tipped with black. Head and neck blue-gray with pink wattles. The male turkey will display a white forehead, bright blue face and scarlet neck during spring. Male turkeys will have spurs on their legs.

Female turkeys, called hens, will have breast feathers colored brown, gray and white. The female turkey head will be have small feathers. A small beard may be found on the female turkey.

Both male and female turkeys have long legs, fan-shaped tails and a short, somewhat downcurved bill.

East coast turkeys will feature a chestnut-brown tail tip while southwest turkeys will have a white tail tip.

Juvenile, or immature turkeys, will look similar to adult turkeys.[2] Turkeys can live up to 12 years but the normal lifespan is around five years. The annual mortality rate is 50 percent for the population.[3] The six species of turkey include:

  • Meleagris gallopavo ssp. silvestris Vieillot (eastern wild turkey)
  • M. gallopavo ssp. osceola Scott (Florida wild turkey)
  • M. gallopavo ssp. mexicana (Gould's wild turkey)
  • M. gallopavo ssp. merriami Nelson (Merriam's wild turkey)
  • M. gallopavo ssp. intermedia Sennett (Rio Grande turkey)
  • M. gallopavo ssp. gallopavo (Mexican wild turkey)

}}</ref> There are six subspecies of Meleagris gallopavo. These subspecies differ in size, plumage and distribution. [2][3]


Turkeys are ground-dwelling and may live in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California to the east coast of the United States. Turkeys could be found in hardwood forests, Ponderosa pine forests, mesquite grassland, chapparal and swamps.[1]

Listed Ecosystems

Longleaf-slash pine, Loblolly-shortleaf pine, Oak-pine, Oak-hickory, Oak-gum-cypress, Elm-ash-cottonwood, Maple-beech-birch, Aspen-birch, Douglas-fir, Ponderosa pine, Lodgepole pine, Western hardwoods, Shinnery, Texas svanna, Southwestern shrubsteppe, Chapparal-mountain shrub, Pinyon-juniper, mountain grasslands, mountain meadows, plains grasslands, prairie, desert grasslands and wet grasslands.[3]


Turkeys are mainly ground feeders who prefer to search for food two to three hours after dawn and shortly before dusk. Turkeys may choose to forage from low growing shrubs or trees. [2]When foraging turkeys will eat a variety of foods including acorns, nuts, seeds, buds, leaves and ferns. They also eat ground-dwelling insects and salamanders.[2]


Turkeys are able to reproduce between 10 and 12 months, although young male turkeys may not succeed in courtship during their first year due to competition of older males. Wild turkeys are polygamous. Courtship starts in early spring (January to February) followed by egg laying. The mating season ends in April. [2] [3] The hen will lay between 4 to 17 tan or buffy white, reddish spotted eggs.[4] Incubation is between 25 to 31 days with 28 days being the average incubation period. [2] The nest is located on the ground and amongst vines, grasses and the like.

Turkey chicks are able to walk and feed themselves 24 hours after hatching. The hen will brood her chicks at night during the first two weeks of life. The hen will also chase off predators during this time. Young turkeys are called poults. Males will stay with the hen until fall while females will stay with hen until spring.[2] The young turkeys (called poults) stay with the female parent through the fall (males) or the early spring (females). Turkeys are capable of breeding at about 10 months old, though young males are typically not successful in competing with older males for mates during their first spring. [2]


Known predators include humans, coyotes (Canis latrans), skunks, weasels, minks (Mustelidae), raccoons (Procyon lotor), opossum (Didephisvirginiana), feral dogs (Canis commonis), bobcats (Felis rufus), foxes (Vulpes spp., Urocyon spp.), squirrels, chipmunks (Sciuridae), hawks(Buteo spp., Accipiter spp.), ravens, crows, magpies (Corvidae), and various species of snakes. [3]

Ben Franklin and the Wild Turkey

Ben Franklin, one of the American Founding Fathers, wanted to make the turkey the American national bird. The American eagle was chosen instead. In a letter to his daughter Franklin wrote:

For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country...

"I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.