Wild turkey

Heaviest member of the order Galliformes, agile and fast fliers with good eyesight during day and poor vision at night

Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

A large and notable bird indigenous to North America, it is the wild ancestor of the domestic turkey. There are six subspecies of Wild turkey, all native to North America, with the Eastern Wild turkey being the most widespread. As an integral part of North American ecosystems and culture, the Wild turkey holds a place of significance.

Characteristically, the Wild turkey has a fan-shaped tail, a bare head and neck, and a sturdy build. Males, or toms, are larger than females, known as hens, and boast more colorful plumage with iridescent bronze and green feathers. They are known for their distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the top of the beak and the famous “gobble” call, which is particularly resonant during the mating season.

Wild turkeys are omnivorous, with a diet that includes a wide variety of foods: acorns, nuts, seeds, fruits, insects, and small vertebrates. Their preference for hardwood forests is tied to the abundance of mast (nuts and seeds from forest trees) that provide a high-energy food source. However, they are also adaptable and can live in a range of habitats, including grasslands and swamps.

The breeding behavior of Wild turkeys is quite fascinating. Males are polygamous, and during the breeding season, they display for females by puffing up their feathers, spreading their tails, and dragging their wings. This is accompanied by the “gobble” sound, which can be heard up to a mile away. This call attracts females and asserts the male’s dominance over other males.

Wild turkeys play an important cultural role for many Native American tribes, who regard the bird with great esteem and have incorporated it into their mythology and traditional practices. Moreover, the Wild turkey is an iconic symbol in American culture, particularly celebrated during Thanksgiving.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Australia
2018
Breeding
Canada
2018
Mexico
2018
New Zealand
2018
Breeding
United States
2018
Breeding: Hawaiian Is.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No