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Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: PHASIANIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Most North American kids learn turkey identification early, by tracing outlines of their hands to make Thanksgiving cards. These big, spectacular birds are an increasingly common sight the rest of the year, too, as flocks stride around woods and clearings like miniature dinosaurs. Courting males puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with exuberant gobbling. The Wild Turkey’s popularity at the table led to a drastic decline in numbers, but they have recovered and now occur in every state except Alaska.

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Calls

Male turkeys are called “gobblers” because of their famous call, which is their version of a rooster’s crow. It’s a loud, shrill, descending, throaty jumble of sound that lasts about 1 second. Males often gobble from their treetop roosts, where the sound carries better than on the ground. They use it to attract females and in response to other males—sometimes one male’s call can lead to a group of others joining in. Both males and females cackle as they fly down from roosts, give very short, soft purring calls while traveling on foot, and give a long series of yelps to reassemble a flock after it has become scattered. Young turkeys whistle three or four times to their flockmates when they’re lost.

Other Sounds

The strutting male periodically gives a chump sound followed by a low hum. The source of these sounds is not well understood.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

If you have a large yard near woods, you can attract Wild Turkeys by planting nut-bearing or berry trees. Some people attract turkeys by scattering birdseed or corn on their lawns; just beware that this can also attract unwanted visitors such as rodents.

Find This Bird

To find Wild Turkeys it helps to get up early in the morning, when flocks of these large birds are often out foraging in clearings, field edges, and roadsides. Keep an eye out as you drive along forest edges, particularly forests with nut-bearing trees such as oak and hickory, and you may even see turkeys from your car. In spring and summer, listen for gobbling males; the calls are loud, distinctive, and they carry great distances. You’ll usually find turkeys on the ground, but don’t be surprised if you run across a group of turkeys flying high into their treetop roosts at the end of the day.