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    Wild Turkey Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat Open WoodlandsWild Turkeys live year-round in open forests with interspersed clearings in 49 states (excluding Alaska), parts of Mexico, and parts of southern Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, Canada. Turkeys in northeastern North America use mature oak-hickory forests and humid forests of red oak, beech, cherry, and white ash. In the Southeast, turkeys live in forests containing pine, magnolia, beech, live oak, pecan, American elm, cedar elm, cottonwood, hickory, bald cypress, tupelo, sweetgum, or water ash, with understories of sourwood, huckleberry, blueberry, mountain laurel, greenbrier, rose, wisteria, buttonbush, or Carolina willow. Southwestern birds are often found in open grassy savannah with small oak species. In Alberta, turkeys live between pinyon-juniper forest and ponderosa pine forest.Back to top

    Food

    Food OmnivoreWild Turkeys eat plant matter that they forage for in flocks, mostly on the ground but sometimes climbing into shrubs or low trees for fruits. In fall, winter, and early spring they scratch the forest floor for acorns from red oak, white oak, chestnut oak, and black oak, along with American beech nuts, pecans, hickory nuts, wild black cherries, white ash seeds, and other seeds and berries. When deep snow covers the ground, they eat hemlock buds, evergreen ferns, spore-covered fronds of sensitive ferns, club mosses, and burdock. During the spring they may dig up plant bulbs if nuts are scarce. In late spring and summer, Wild Turkeys strip seeds from sedges and grasses, occasionally supplementing their plant diet with salamanders, snails, ground beetles, and other insects. Like most birds they swallow grit to help digest their food.Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest GroundWild Turkeys nest on the ground in dead leaves at the bases of trees, under brush piles or thick shrubbery, or occasionally in open hayfields.

    Nest Description

    The female scratches a shallow depression in the soil, about 1 inch deep, 8–11 inches wide, and 9–13 inches long. Wild Turkeys use only the dead leaves or other plant materials already present at the nest site.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:4-17 eggs
    Number of Broods:1 brood
    Egg Length:1.9-2.7 in (4.9-6.9 cm)
    Egg Width:1.6-1.9 in (4.1-4.7 cm)
    Incubation Period:25-31 days
    Nestling Period:1 day
    Egg Description:Pale yellowish tan, evenly marked with reddish brown or pinkish spots.
    Condition at Hatching:Well-developed and covered with tawny, brown, pinkish, and gray down.
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    Behavior

    Behavior Ground ForagerWild Turkeys get around mostly by walking, though they can also run and fly—when threatened, females tend to fly while males tend to run. At sundown turkeys fly into the lower limbs of trees and move upward from limb to limb to a high roost spot. They usually roost in flocks, but sometimes individually. Courting males gobble to attract females and warn competing males. They display for females by strutting with their tails fanned, wings lowered, while making nonvocal hums and chump sounds. Males breed with multiple mates and form all-male flocks outside of the breeding season, leaving the chick-rearing to the females, The chicks travel in a family group with their mother, often combining with other family groups to form large flocks of young turkeys accompanied by two or more adult females. Each sex has an independent pecking order, with a stable female hierarchy and a constantly changing male hierarchy. Wild Turkeys are hunted by coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, mountain lions, Golden Eagles, Great Horned Owls, and people. Nest predators include raccoons, opossums, striped skunks, gray foxes, woodchucks, rat snakes, bull snakes, birds, and rodents.Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernWild Turkeys are numerous and their populations increased sharply between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 7.8 million with about 89% living in the U.S., 10% in Mexico, and 2% in Canada. They rate a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Wild Turkeys regained and even expanded their range after drastic declines during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from hunting and habitat loss. One subspecies disappeared from New England in the mid-nineteenth century, surviving in small numbers in wilderness areas of the Gulf States, the Ozarks, and the Appalachian and Cumberland plateaus. Another subspecies disappeared from parts of Texas, while yet another declined precipitously in numbers throughout the Southwest. In the early twentieth century people tried unsuccessfully to use farm turkeys for restoring wild populations, but in the late 1940s they began to successfully transplant wild-caught turkeys into suitable habitat. No other game bird has responded so well to the efforts of game managers. The birds are popular among hunters; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 21 percent of all U.S. hunters (about 2.5 million people) pursue turkey, making it the second most-sought game after deer. Their expanding populations have made it possible for hunting seasons to be put in place in all 49 states in their range.Back to top

    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.

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    Credits

    McRoberts, Jon T., Mark C. Wallace and Stephen W. Eaton. 2014. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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