Living Bird Magazine
Wild TurkeyMeleagris gallopavo
- ORDER: Galliformes
- FAMILY: Phasianidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Guajolote Gallipavo (Spanish)
- Dindon sauvage (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- The Wild Turkey and the Muscovy Duck are the only two domesticated birds native to the New World.
- In the early 1500s, European explorers brought home Wild Turkeys from Mexico, where native people had domesticated the birds centuries earlier. Turkeys quickly became popular on European menus thanks to their large size and rich taste from their diet of wild nuts. Later, when English colonists settled on the Atlantic Coast, they brought domesticated turkeys with them.
- The English name of the bird may be a holdover from early shipping routes that passed through the country of Turkey on their way to delivering the birds to European markets.
- Male Wild Turkeys provide no parental care. Newly hatched chicks follow the female, who feeds them for a few days until they learn to find food on their own. As the chicks grow, they band into groups composed of several hens and their broods. Winter groups sometimes exceed 200 turkeys.
- As Wild Turkey numbers dwindled through the early twentieth century, people began to look for ways to reintroduce this valuable game bird. Initially they tried releasing farm turkeys into the wild but those birds didn’t survive. In the 1940s, people began catching wild birds and transporting them to other areas. Such transplantations allowed Wild Turkeys to spread to all of the lower 48 states (plus Hawaii) and parts of southern Canada.
- Because of their large size, compact bones, and long-standing popularity as a dinner item, turkeys have a better known fossil record than most other birds. Turkey fossils have been unearthed across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago.
- When they need to, Turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking.