Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo

Summary 3

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is native to North America and is the heaviest member of the diverse Galliformes. It is the same species as the domestic turkey, which was originally derived from a southern Mexican subspecies of Wild Turkey (not the related Ocellated Turkey). Although native to North America, the turkey probably got its name due to the domesticated variety being imported to Britain in ships coming from the Levant via Spain. The British at...

Associated plant communities 4

More info for the term: hardwood

Wild turkeys predominantly inhabit oak (Quercus spp.) and pine (Pinus
spp.)-oak forests across North America [18,21]. They also frequent
bottomland hardwood sites such as those dominated by cottonwood and
aspen (Populus spp.). In the West wild turkeys use ponderosa pine
(Pinus ponderosa)-Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)-oak forests and
mature mixed conifer forests [6]. In the Southwest they use pinyon
(Pinus spp.)-juniper (Juniperus spp.) types mixed with oak [23]. In the
Southeast wild turkeys inhabit loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), slash pine
(P. elliottii), and pond pine (P. serotina) forests mixed with
hardwoods. They also use baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)-water tupelo
(Nyssa aquatica) types [24].


Communication and perception 5

Wild turkeys use calls and body signals to communicate. For example, during the spring, males will fan out their tails, strut around and "gobble" to try to attract females. Wild turkeys give at least 15 different calls. The most easily recognized call is the "gobble". Males use the "gobble" call to attract female mates and to tell other males to stay away.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Conservation status 6

Wild turkeys are plentiful and are widespread. Many states are starting to introduce them into previously uninhabited areas, increasing their range and distribution. Current estimates of wild turkey populations are around 4 million in North America (Dickson, 1995).

Wild turkeys are not legally protected. In fact, they are hunted in many states.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

Cover requirements 7

More info for the terms: cover, forb

Wild turkeys need mature, open forests (for traveling and seeing
predators) interspersed with grassy openings. The amount of openings
required by wild turkeys varies from 10 to 25 percent of the total
range. Clearings should be spaced so that hens with broods do not have
to travel more than 1 to 2 miles (1.6-3.2 km) [22]. Areas considered
unsuitable include large tracts of even-aged pine on short rotations,
intensely farmed fields, and areas with a lot of human activity. Healy
(in Shroeder [22]) estimated that the best cover for poults in the
Southeast is a grass and forb mixture 15.7 to 27.6 inches (40-70 cm)
tall and with a biomass of 600 to 3,000 kilograms per hectare dry
weight. This should be mixed with trees and a 60 to 100 percent cover
in the understory. For more detailed habitat suitability index models,
see Schroeder [22].

Cyclicity 8

Comments: Most active in early morning and late afternoon.

Distribution 9

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are one of the most widely distributed game bird species in North America. They are found throughout most of the eastern United States, and in pockets throughout the western United States. They are also found in parts of northern Mexico, particularly in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Wild turkeys have been introduced to Germany and New Zealand.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Introduced ); australian (Introduced )

Distribution 10

The wild turkey has been successfully introduced in most states outside
of its native range and has also been introduced in southern
Saskatchewan, southwestern Manitoba, and southern Ontario [1,8]. It is
resident locally from central Arizona and central Colorado to northern
Iowa, central Michigan, southern New Hampshire, and southwestern Maine
south to southern Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Florida; and since being
introduced into the western states, ranges throughout the continental
United States and Hawaii [8,18]. The original ranges of subspecies of
wild turkey in North America are listed below [18]:

M. g. ssp. silvestris - most of the eastern and midwestern United States,
from southern Ontario south through northern
Florida and from the Atlantic Coast to Kansas
and Nebraska
M. g. ssp. osceola - Florida Peninsula
M. g. ssp. mexicana - north-central Mexico
M. g. ssp. merriami - Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado
M. g. ssp. intermedia - Texas, northern Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas
M. g. ssp. gallopavo - east-central Mexico

Ecology 11

Sexes usually form separate flocks in winter. In Massachusetts, predation exerted greatest influence on productivity; in Minnesota, winter conditions and resulting pre-breeding female condition were important factor in productivity (Vander Haegen et al. 1988). In southeastern Oklahoma, mean seasonal home range sizes for adult females were 225 ha (winter), 865 ha (spring), 780 ha (summer), and 459 ha (fall) (Bidwell et al. 1989). Home range in Montana was 260 to 520 hectares (Jonas 1966). In Colorado, adult males moved an average distance of 5.3 km from winter ranges to spring breeding areas; subadult males moved an average distance of 8.7 km; in spring males moved about 1000 m between morning and evening roosts used on the same day (Hoffman 1991). In north, deep snow restrict movements.

Economic importance for humans: negative 12

We do not know of any ways that wild turkeys hurt humans.

Economic importance for humans: positive 13

Wild turkeys are one of the most popular game bird species in the United States. State Departments of Natural Resources earn money from turkey hunting by selling hunting permits.

Positive Impacts: food

Ecosystem roles 14

Wild turkeys provide food for their predators and impact populations of the plants whose seeds and nuts they eat.

Wild turkeys also host at least 60 different species of parasites. These include 9 Myxozoa, 11 trematodes, 10 Cestoda, 1 Acanthocephala, 17 Nematoda and 12 Arthropoda.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Myxozoa
  • trematodes
  • Cestoda
  • Acanthocephala
  • Nematoda
  • Arthropoda

Food habits 15

Wild turkeys are omnivorous. They mostly eat plant material, including acorns, nuts, seeds, buds, leaves and fern fronds. They also eat insects and salamanders. Wild turkeys search for food on the ground, but they occasionally fly to the top of a shrub or a small tree to feed on fruit or buds. They usually feed for 2 to 3 hours after dawn and before dusk.

Animal Foods: amphibians; insects

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Food habits 16

More info for the term: mast

Wild turkeys eat fruits, seeds, tubers, bulbs, and greens of locally
common plants. They also eat animals such as snails, spiders,
grasshoppers, millipedes, and salamanders [22]. Grasses are usually
important spring foods, while mast and fruits are important during the
fall and winter. Poults rely on insects for protein. Some plant food
species of the wild turkey include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida),
wild cherry (Prunus serotina), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), hackberry
(Celtis occidentalis), hickory (Carya spp.), hawthorn (Crateagus spp.),
oak, cottonwood and aspen (Populus spp.), pinyon, juniper, prickly pear
(Opuntia spp.), sumac (Rhus spp.), wheat (Triticum aestivum), alfalfa
(Medicago sativa), rye (Secale cereale), soybean (Glycine max), paspalum
(Paspalum spp.), and panic grass (Panicum spp.) [18,22,23]. Wild
turkeys must be near drinking water on a daily basis [26].

Geographic range 17

Wild turkeys (Meleagris_gallopavo) are native to the Nearctic region. They are found throughout most of the eastern United States, and in patches throughout the western United States. They are also found in parts of northern Mexico, including in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Wild turkeys have been introduced to Germany and New Zealand.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Introduced ); australian (Introduced )

Habitat 18

Comments: Forest and open woodland, scrub oak, deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous areas, especially in mountainous regions (Subtropical and Temperate zones) (AOU 1983). Also agricultural areas in some regions, which may provide important food resources in winter (e.g., in Massachusetts, Vander Haegen et al. 1989). Roosts in trees at night. Severe winters and/or lack of winter habitat are important limiting factors in many northern areas. In a South Dakota ponderosa pine ecosystem, females with young selected mainly large meadows (Rumble and Anderson 1993).

Nests normally on the ground, usually in open areas at the edge of woods; rarely nests in trees (Fletcher, 1994, Wilson Bull. 106:562-563). In South Dakota, almost all nests initiated in April were in woodland communities whereas nests started after the first week of May were primarily in grassland communities; selected nest sites with concealing vegetation immediately above the nest; nests were placed in habitats associated with high interspersion; shrubs were strongly selected for as nesting cover in grassland; grassland nest sites had a high degree of visual obstruction immediately around the nest site (Day et al. 1991). Sites with good concealment also were selected in Arkansas (Badyaev 1995).

Habitat 19

Wild turkeys prefer hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Wetlands: marsh

Other Habitat Features: agricultural ; riparian

Habitat and ecology 20


  • Terrestrial

Habitat related fire effects 21

More info for the term: mast

Annual prescribed burns in longleaf-wiregrass (Aristida spp.)-bracken
fern (Pteridium aquilegia) types of Georgia stimulated the growth of
important wild turkey food plants like legumes and panic grass [4].
Following prescribed fires in the Georgia Piedmont, total seed
production of desirable food plants increased during postburn year 1
from 6.4 kilograms per hectare to 26.4 kilograms per hectare [7].
Spring, late summer, and winter fires in Texas slash pine plantations
seriously reduced mast production but increased fruiting of flowering
dogwood [19]. Loblolly pine stands in South Carolina were burned to
determine the effects of fire on wild turkeys [8]. One plot, burned
every winter for 20 years showed an increase in desired food plants like
winged sumac (Rhus copallina), beggartick (Desmodium spp.), and
partridge pea (Cassia nictitans). An adjacent plot burned every summer
for 20 years and one unburned plot showed little to no value for

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing 22

Maximum longevity: 13 years (wild) Observations: Mortality in wild populations of 50% per year is common. Generally do not live over 5 years in the wild (http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/), though record longevity in the wild is 13 years (http://www.demogr.mpg.de/longevityrecords).

Lifespan/longevity 23

The oldest known wild turkey lived at least 13 years. Most wild turkeys probably live less than two years.

Range lifespan
Status: wild:
13 (high) years.

Typical lifespan
Status: wild:
1.3 to 1.6 years.

Management 24

Management Requirements: Selective thinning of riverfront hardwoods in Louisiana resulted in increased use by females (Zwank et al. 1988). See Pack et al. (1988) for information on the use of prescribed burning and thinning to increase brood habitat in oak-hickory forests.

In South Dakota, grazing by livestock reduced herbaceous biomass necessary for invertebrate food items and cover for young (Rumble and Anderson 1993).

See Rumble and Anderson (1992) for information on methods for stratification of habitats in a way that is useful for forest management (habitat selection was best described by stratifying by dominant species of vegetation and overstory canopy cover; Black Hills, South Dakota). See Sanderson and Shultz (1973), Ligon (1946), Willians and Austin (1988), and Williamson (no date) for additional management information.

Miller (1990) discussed factors affecting survival of transplanted turkeys.

Management considerations 25

More info for the term: cover

The wild turkey is a popular game species that has been introduced to
almost every state outside the limits of its original range [21].
However, it is not very tolerant of human activity and has suffered from
urbanization as well as intense farming and conversion of native forest
land to pine plantations [11,22]. Wild turkeys are susceptible to
domestic poultry diseases [26]. Pesticide spraying to reduce vegetation
may temporarily result in decreased turkey use of an area [2].

Wild turkey populations declined following cutting, burning, and
chaining of pinyon-juniper types in Arizona [23]. Partially cut units
showed only a temporary reduction in turkey use. Where one-third of a
large tract (800 ha) was treated, use decreased from 32 percent to 3
percent during summer. These authors recommended that cleared areas be
less than 300 feet (90 m) wide and that cover in travel corridors
between feeding and roosting areas be maintained.


Meleagris gallopavo 26

An extremely large (36-48 inches) game bird, the Wild Turkey is most easily identified by its large size, bald bluish head, and iridescent black or brown body feathers. Male Wild Turkeys have large fan-like tails and red wattles on the neck, whereas females are much smaller and plainer. This species is nearly unmistakable among North America birds, although certain varieties of Domestic Turkey resemble their wild ancestors. The Wild Turkey is native to much of the eastern United States, southern Canada, and Mexico. However, its range has been in constant flux over the past 500 years as populations have locally been hunted to extinction or, conversely, introduced into new areas for sport shooting. Due to both factors, Wild Turkeys are absent from portions of the Atlantic Seaboard and upper Midwest but may be found locally in parts of the western U.S.where they did not occur before Europeans arrived in the New World. The Wild Turkey is the only native North American bird to be domesticated, and Domestic Turkeys are farmed around the world. Wild Turkeys inhabit a wide array of habitats, including deciduous woodland, dry scrub, and grassland. While this species is rarely found in urban or suburban areas, Wild Turkeys will visit agricultural fields and pastures. In fact, the ancestors of the Domestic Turkey likely became associated with humans through visiting maize fields in Mexico. This species primarily eats seeds, nuts, leaves, and insects. In forests, clearings, and more open habitats, it may be possible to observe Wild Turkeys standing or walking, singly or in small groups, while foraging for food. The male’s call, a series of “gobble” sounds, is familiar and identifying. Wild Turkeys are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least concern

Migration 27

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Physical description 28

Wild turkeys are large birds with long legs, long necks and large fan-shaped tails. They have short, rounded wings. Male wild turkeys have dark, metallic feathers. Their wing feathers are black with brown and white stripes. Males have a red wattle (a piece of skin that hangs down under the chin), a knob on their forehead (called a caruncle) and a blackish tuft of feathers on the front of their breast. Their legs are pink, pinkish-gray, or silver-gray. They have spurs on the back of their legs that can grow as long as 3.2 cm. Their heads are red, blue, or white, depending on the season. Male wild turkeys are called gobblers.

Female wild turkeys (called hens) are smaller and lighter-colored than males. Most females do not have a breast tuft. They have a grayish head and feathers on their necks.

Male gobblers weigh 6.8 to 11 kg. Hens usually weigh 3.6 to 5.4 kg. Turkeys' weights change throughout the year depending on how much food is available.

Range mass: 3.6 to 11 kg.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful; ornamentation

Predation 29

Predators of wild turkey eggs and nestlings include Procyon lotor, Didelphis virginana, Mephitis mephitis, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, Aves, Marmota monax, Rodentia, Spilogale putorius, Felis rufus, Elaphe obsoleta and Pituophis melanoleucus.

Humans are the primary predator of adult wild turkeys. Other predators include Canis latrans, Felis rufus, Procyon lotor, Felis concolor, Aquila chrysaetos, and Bubo virginianus.

Known Predators:

  • Procyon lotor
  • Didelphis virginana
  • Mephitis mephitis
  • Urocyon cinereoargenteus
  • Aves
  • Marmota monax
  • Rodentia
  • Spilogale putorius
  • Felis rufus
  • Elaphe obsoleta
  • Pituophis melanoleucus
  • Canis latrans
  • Felis concolor
  • Aquila chrysaetos
  • Bubo virginianus
  • homo sapiens

Predators 30

Predators of the turkey include humans, coyote (Canis latrans), skunks,
weasels, mink (Mustelidae), raccoon (Procyon lotor), opossum (Didephis
virginiana), feral dog (Canis commonis), bobcat (Felis rufus), foxes
(Vulpes spp., Urocyon spp.), squirrels, chipmunks (Sciuridae), hawks
(Buteo spp., Accipiter spp.), raven, crow, magpie (Corvidae), and
various snake species [18,21,22].

Preferred habitat 31

More info for the term: cover

The wild turkey occurs in a variety of habitats from bottomland hardwood
forests to upland woods and pine forests. These forests must be
interspersed with pastures, grasslands, or agricultural land and other
openings that can provide feeding, dusting, and brooding habitat [22].
In Oregon, wild turkeys prefer to roost in large ponderosa pines on
easterly slopes. They also may roost in logging slash on north slopes
between 2,000 and 3,000 feet (610-914 m). In this same part of Oregon,
wild turkeys prefer ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir-oak stands in spring and
summer, mixed conifer stands in spring and winter, and oak stands in
winter [6]. Eastern Texas brooding hens selected low stocked stands
with abundant herbaceous cover [5]. In the Black Hills of South Dakota
wild turkeys nest in slash and on rock outcrops [20]. In Arizona they
will roost in valleys and in ponderosa pines on northerly slopes [23].
In Massachusetts, wild turkeys select agricultural land during winter,
where they have a better chance of surviving severe winters than if they
remained in the forests [27]. In the fields, wild turkeys can feed on

Regional distribution in the western united states 32

More info on this topic.

This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

Reproduction 33

Female incubates average of 10-12 eggs for 27-28 days, beginning ning late April-early May in Alabama, Florida, New York, early May in Minnesota; most nests initiated mid-April to mid-May in northeastern Colorado. Hatching begins in May in south, usually early June in north. Young are tended by female; brood stays together until winter. Females first breed as yearlings.

Reproduction 34

Wild turkeys are polygynous (one male mates with many females). Males try to attract females by calling (called "gobbling"). The gobbles of male wild turkeys can be heard more than 1.5 kilometers away (or about a mile). Males also try to attract females by "strutting". They do this by walking around with their tail fanned out, their wings dragging on the ground, their feathers puffed up and their throat puffed out.

Mating System: polygynous

Wild turkeys breed in early spring. Southern populations usually begin courtship activities in late January and northern populations begin in late February. Turkeys raise one brood of chicks per year.

Turkey nests are just shallow bowl-shaped holes scratched in the dirt. They are usually under dense brush or vines, or in deep grass. The female scratches out the nest and lays 4 to 17 eggs. She incubates the eggs for 25 to 31 days. The chicks are well-developed when they hatch. They are able to walk and feed themselves the day after they hatch. For the first two weeks after hatching, the female covers the chicks at night (called brooding) to protect them and keep them warm. She also protects them from predators. The young turkeys are called poults. Male poults stay with their mother through the fall. Female poults stay with their mother until spring.

Turkeys can breed when they are about 10 months old. However, male turkeys usually do not breed this young because females prefer to mate with older males.

Breeding interval: Wild turkeys breed once per year.

Breeding season: Courtship begins in early spring (January to February).

Range eggs per season: 4 to 17.

Range time to hatching: 25 to 31 days.

Range fledging age: 24 (high) hours.

Range time to independence: 4 to 10 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10 months.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Average eggs per season: 11.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male:
365 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female:
365 days.

Male wild turkeys do not care for their chicks. The female parent does all of the parental care. The female makes the nest, incubates the eggs, and cares for the chicks.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female)

Size 35

Length: 117 cm

Weight: 7400 grams

Taxonomy 36

The currently accepted scientific name for wild turkey is Meleagris
gallopavo Linnaeus [1]. The six subspecies are distinguished by
coloration, size, and distribution [1,18]:

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)

Timing of major life history events 37

Mating Season - February through April
Incubation - 28 days; 10 to 13 eggs; preccocial young
Age of Maturity - 1 year, but may not mate until 2 to 3 years of age;
Longevity - can live to 10 or 12 years, but 5 years is considered "old";
annual mortality of 50% in a population is common

Trophic strategy 38

Comments: Feeds on seeds, nuts, acorns, fruits, and grains, buds, and young grass blades. During summer eats many insects; may also eat some small vertebrates (frogs, toads, snakes, etc). Principal winter foods in the northeastern part of the range include acorns, fruits of multiflora rose and barberry, apples, field corn, fertile fronds of sensitive fern and various other ferns, mosses, and hardwood seeds and buds. In Massachusetts, manure spread on fields was an important source of food in winter (Vander Haegen et al. 1989). Usually forages on the ground.

Use of fire in population management 39

Prescribed fire can be used to stimulate the growth of food plants and
promote early spring green up of grasses [22]. Fire can also reduce
litter, exposing seeds and insects; and reduce brush so that turkeys can
be wary of predators [14,15,25]. Fire can be used to create edges to
increase nesting habitat [25]. It can also reduce parasites such as
ticks and lice [16]. Devet and Hopkins [8] recommended burning
loblolly-longleaf pine stands every 3 years, and burning every 4 to 6
years in Piedmont regions. For burning recommendations of
mast-producing oak species see the desired species in the FEIS database.

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