Wild Turkeys

The wild turkey is one of two turkeys in the bird family and is scientifically known as Meleagris gallopavo. The one other species in the turkey family is the Ocellated Turkey. These birds are related to pheasants.

The name turkey has several possible origins. One of these could be that when this bird, which has a variety of different calls, is frightened it makes a loud, "turc-turc-turc" sound. Another possible origin of its name is that the turkey may have been confused with the guinea fowl which had been imported to Spain from Africa through the country of Turkey.

Turkey History

Turkeys which are native to North America once ranged from New England to over most of the Mexican plateau. These abundant creatures were even thought of by Benjamin Franklin as a more suitable bird than the bald eagle to be the symbol for the United States. However, with domestication and hunting the range of the wild turkey and the turkey itself dwindled.

It wasn’t until the wild turkey was nearly gone that conservation efforts were successful in helping this bird to make a comeback. For sometime the appearance of a wild turkey in the land between southern Pennsylvania and Florida and some areas of Mexico was rarely seen. But now this creature has been successfully reintroduced to most of its original range as well as into new territory such as Hawaii and the western United States with more than 5.6 million wild turkeys in the US today.

The Turkey's Body

The male turkey is approximately 3’ tall and weighs about 20 pounds. The female is similar although smaller framed and weighing only about 16 pounds. These large birds have a 40" wing span with feathers that contain a metallic luster reflecting brown, green, and red. The turkey’s head looks small and bald at the top of its long neck. Although the head is actually sparsely covered with hair-like bristles.

The male turkey, called a tom, also has a long, red, fleshy growth at the base of its beak, known as the snood. In addition red fleshy growths can be seen along its neck. These are called wattles. The male is also equipped with spurs ¼" to 1 ¼" long on its lower legs. The wild turkey, unlike its domesticated counter part which has been bred for shorter body length and a heavier breast, is able to fly. They can even fly for short distances as fast as 55 mph.

Turkey Food

The wild turkey which lives in woods, mountain forests, and wooded swamps often roosts in trees. It feeds on a variety of leaves, seeds, berries, buds and roots, including acorns, chestnuts, cherries, blue berries, and rose hips. It also will eat a variety of insects as well as snails.

The Turkey's Nest

During mating season the male struts, fans its tail, and gobbles to attract one or more mates as well as to fend off other male turkeys. Once mating has taken place the female constructs a well hidden ground nest of grasses and dry leaves. The hen then lays about 12-18 cream to buff colored eggs, which are lightly spotted with red.

The eggs incubate for approximately 28 days with the female as their sole caretaker. Often only half of the chicks which hatch will make it to maturity since the young are vulnerable to both enemies and damp inclement weather. Predators include bobcats, hawks, owls, eagles, snakes, coyotes, fox, and raccoons to name just a few.

Young turkeys are practically bare which makes cold, damp weather a threat. However, at just 1-2 weeks of age these birds can make short flights, several months before they are considered mature. The life span of a wild turkey can reach 12 years, although 5 years is a common life time.

Turkey Facts

Books for Children


Related Subjects

In Association with Amazon.com ®
AMAZON.COM is the registered trademark of Amazon.com, Inc.