What would the United States' Thanksgiving holiday be without turkey? Populations of Wild Turkeys had seriously declined by the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, reintroduction programs have been successful and the Wild Turkey has been restored to much of its former range.
Wild TurkeyMeleagris gallopavo
Benjamin Franklin would have preferred to have the Wild Turkey, not the Bald Eagle, as the national symbol of the United States. Although the barnyard variety is a rather stupid creature (leading to the insulting tone of the term "turkey"), the original wild form is a wary and magnificent bird. Wild Turkeys usually get around by walking or running, but they can fly strongly, and they typically roost overnight in tall trees.
Field MarksA streamlined version of the barnyard Turkey, with rusty instead of white on tips on the tail feathers (variable; southwestern populations have buffy white tail tips). Head naked; bluish with red wattles, intensified in male's display. Tail of male is erected like a fan during display. Bronzy iridescent body; barred wings (primaries and secondaries); "beard" on breast. The female is smaller, with a smaller head; less iridescent, and less likely to have a beard.
SizeMale 48" (120 cm); female 36" (90 cm)
Voice"Gobbling" of male like domestic Turkey's. Alarm, pit! or put-put! Flock call, keow-keow. Hen clucks to brood.
RangeEastern and southwestern United States to Mexico. Introduced widely elsewhere. Recently introduced in numerous localities north to dash line.
MigrationNot migratory, but may wander at some seasons, especially in fall.
HabitatWoods, mountain forests, wooded swamps. Habitats vary in different parts of continent, include oak-hickory forest, pine-oak forest, cypress swamps, arid mesquite grassland, pinyon-juniper woodland, chaparral. Usually found near some kind of oak (acorns are a favorite food). Best habitat includes a mixture of woodland and open clearings.
FeedingDiet: Omnivorous. Diet varies with season but is mostly plant material, including many acorns, leaves, seeds, grains, berries, buds, grass blades, roots, bulbs. Also eats insects, spiders, snails. Sometimes eats frogs, lizards, snakes, salamanders, crabs.
Behavior: Forages mostly by walking on ground. Often scratches in leaf litter to expose food items. Sometimes climbs in shrubs or trees to eat berries. May forage most actively in early morning and evening.
NestingIn spring, male gives gobbling call to attract females. In courtship, males puff out feathers, raise and spread tail, swell up face wattles, droop wings; in this exaggerated posture they strut, rattling the wing feathers and making humming sounds. One male will mate with several females.
Nest: Site is on ground, often at base of tree, under shrub, or in tall grass. Nest is shallow depression, sparsely lined with grass, leaves.
Eggs: Usually 10-15, sometimes 4-18, rarely more. White to pale buff, dotted with reddish brown. Sometimes more than one female will lay eggs in a nest. Incubation is by female only, 25-31 days.
Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female tends young and broods them at night for several weeks; young feed themselves. Young can make short flights at age of 1-2 weeks, but not full-grown for several months.
ConservationNumbers seriously depleted by beginning of 20th century, but has been reintroduced to most of former range and established in new areas. Apparently still increasing in many regions.