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Wild Turkey


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.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Wild Turkeys are very large, plump birds with long legs, wide, rounded tails, and a small head on a long, slim neck.

  • Color Pattern

    Turkeys are dark overall with a bronze-green iridescence to most of their plumage. Their wings are dark, boldly barred with white. Their rump and tail feathers are broadly tipped with rusty or white. The bare skin of the head and neck varies from red to blue to gray.

  • Behavior

    Turkeys travel in flocks and search on the ground for nuts, berries, insects, and snails. They use their strong feet to scratch leaf litter out of the way. In early spring, males gather in clearings to perform courtship displays. They puff up their body feathers, flare their tails into a vertical fan, and strut slowly while giving a characteristic gobbling call. At night, turkeys fly up into trees to roost in groups.

  • Habitat

    Wild Turkeys live in mature forests, particularly nut trees such as oak, hickory, or beech, interspersed with edges and fields. You may also see them along roads and in woodsy backyards. After being hunted out of large parts of their range, turkeys were reintroduced and are numerous once again.

Range Map Help

Wild Turkey Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male (Eastern)

    Wild Turkey

    Adult male (Eastern)
    • Very large, plump game-bird
    • Male unmistakeable in display with tail fanned and body "inflated"
    • Iridescence and patterning on wings, bright blue and pink skin on head and neck
    • Eastern birds show rufous tips on tail feathers
    • © Jim Mcree, Glenburn, Maine, April 2012
  • Adult male (Eastern)

    Wild Turkey

    Adult male (Eastern)
    • Very large and stocky with bare head and neck
    • Males show bristly "beard" extending off of chest
    • Mostly dark with bronzy iridescence on wings
    • Slender, curving neck and long, stocky legs
    • © Jay Paredes, Jupiter, Florida, May 2010
  • Adult female (Eastern)

    Wild Turkey

    Adult female (Eastern)
    • Very large, plump game-bird with long, slender neck
    • Mostly dark brown with rufous edges on body feathers
    • Long, stocky legs
    • Short bill
    • © osprey41, Land o' Lakes, Florida, May 2008
  • Adult males (Southwestern)

    Wild Turkey

    Adult males (Southwestern)
    • Very large and plump game-birds
    • Displaying male appears even larger
    • Bare head and neck with pink and blue skin
    • Bristly "beard" extends off of chest of males
    • © Reddirtpics, Norman, Oklahoma, September 2011
  • Adult male (Southwestern)

    Wild Turkey

    Adult male (Southwestern)
    • Very large, plump game-bird
    • Mostly dark brown with iridescence and patterning on wings
    • Southwestern/Mexican birds show white tips on rump and tail feathers
    • Males show bristly "beard" on chest
    • © Lois Manowitz, Madera Canyon, Arizona, March 2012
  • Adult female (Eastern) with juvenile

    Wild Turkey

    Adult female (Eastern) with juvenile
    • Very large, stocky game-bird
    • Mostly dark brown with paler patterning on wings
    • Bare head and neck
    • Juvenile plump like adult, mostly dark brown with paler head
    • © Christopher L. Wood
  • Juveniles

    Wild Turkey

    • Chicks plump and stocky like adults
    • Mostly dark brown with faint rufous barring
    • Paler head
    • Large feet
    • © Christopher L. Wood, September 2004
  • Adult male (Southwestern)

    Wild Turkey

    Adult male (Southwestern)
    • Familiar large game-bird
    • Plump and stocky overall with iridescent and heavily patterned plumage
    • Southwestern/Mexican birds show pale whitish tips on tail and rump feathers
    • Breeding males show bright blue facial skin and red wattle
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Laredo, Texas, March 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Dusky Grouse

    Adult male
    • Much smaller and more compact than Wild Turkey
    • Shorter tail
    • Dark blue/gray overall
    • Fully feathered head and neck with breeding male showing bright yellow "eyebrows"
    • © birdsandwater, Signal Mountain, Wyoming, June 2010
  • Adult female

    Sooty Grouse

    Adult female
    • Much smaller and more compact than Wild Turkey
    • Fully-feathered head and neck
    • Mostly dark blue/gray overall with pale mottling
    • Short tail
    • © Malcolm Gold, Paradise, Washington, June 2010
  • Adult

    Ruffed Grouse

    • Much smaller than Wild Turkey
    • Feathered head with obvious crest
    • Pale breast with dark mottling
    • © Greg Schneider, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, October 2010
  • Adult male

    Greater Sage-Grouse

    Adult male
    • Smaller and more compact than Wild Turkey
    • Bright white breast
    • Unique, spiky tail feathers
    • Fully-feathered head and neck
    • © Bryant Olsen, Utah, April 2010

Similar Species

Overall, Wild Turkeys are fairly unmistakable because of their very large size and bare heads. Ring-necked Pheasants are much smaller than turkeys and have very long, thin, pointed tails. Grouse such as Ruffed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, and Sooty Grouse are considerably smaller, with shorter legs and feathered heads.

Regional Differences

Wild Turkeys in the Rocky Mountains tend to have whitish tips to the rump and tail feathers, whereas other populations have rusty or chestnut tail tips.

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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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.



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