Wild Turkey Information
Imagine going on a turkey hunt only to find there are no wild turkeys! It sounds far fetched, but in the early 1930s this awesome game bird was almost extinct. But today, thanks to hunters and wildlife conservation programs, the wild turkey is back and thriving across North America.
Wild turkeys are native to North America, and there are five subspecies: Eastern, Osceola (Florida), Rio Grande, Merriam's and Gould's. All five live throughout different parts of the continent. The eastern is the most common and can be found throughout the entire eastern half of the U.S. The Osceola (Florida) is only found on the Florida peninsula, while the Rio Grande can be found throughout Texas and up into Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. Rios are also found in parts of the northwestern states. The Merriam's subspecies can be found along the Rocky Mountains and the neighboring prairies of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. And you can find Gould's throughout the central portion of Mexico into the southernmost parts of New Mexico and Arizona. Click here to visit a map of the different subspecies' ranges.
Between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers cover the body of an adult turkey. A turkey's feathers keep him warm and dry, allow him to fly, feel and show off for the opposite sex. The head and upper part of the neck are featherless, but if you look close, you can see little bumps of skin on the bare area.
Most of the feathers glitter like metal, called iridescence, with colors of red, green, copper, bronze and gold. The gobbler, or male turkey, is more colorful, while the hen is drab to camouflage her with her surroundings.
Males from females can be told apart using two characteristics: spurs and beards. Both sexes have long powerful legs covered with scales, and are born with a small button spur on the back of the leg. Soon after birth, a male's spur starts growing pointed and curved and can grow to about two inches. Most hen's spurs do not grow. Gobblers also have beards--made up of tufts of filaments, or modified feathers--growing out from the chest. Beards can grow to an average of nine inches (though they can grow much longer). About 10 to 20 percent of hens have beards, too.
Wild turkeys have excellent vision during the day, but don't see as well at night. They are also very mobile. Turkeys can run at speeds up to 25 mph, and they can fly up to 55 mph.
When mating season arrives, anywhere from February to April, courtship usually begins while turkeys are still flocked together in wintering areas. After mating, the hens begin searching for a nest site and laying eggs. In most areas, nests can be found in a shallow dirt depression, surrounded by bushes and plants that conceal the nest.
Hens will lay a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs during a two-week period, usually laying one egg per day. She will incubate her eggs for about 28 days, occasionally turning and rearranging them, until they are ready to hatch.
A newly-hatched brood must be ready to leave the nest within 12 to 24 hours to feed. These young turkeys, called poults, eat insects, berries and seeds, while adults will eat anything from acorns and berries to insects and small reptiles. Turkeys usually feed in early morning and in the afternoon.
Wild turkeys like open areas for feeding, mating and habitat. They use wooded areas as cover from predators and for roosting in trees at night. A mixed habitat of both open and covered area is essential for wild turkeys to survive.
Lack of good habitat was a problem in the past, but with the passing of the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937, which imposed an excise tax on firearms and ammunition, wildlife restoration programs now have money to use to restore wild turkeys and wild turkey habitat. And with the invention of the rocket net, wildlife agencies and the NWTF can trap and transfer turkeys to areas with good habitat.
From only 30,000 turkeys in the early 1900s to 6.4 million today, the wild turkey has truly made an awesome comeback.