Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (2024)

Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (1)

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo): an upland ground bird native to North America.

Kingdom: | Animalia
Class: | Aves
Order: | Galliformes
Family: | Phasianidae
Subfamily: | Meleagridinae
Genus: | Meleagris
Species: | Meleagris gallopavo

There are five subspecies of North American wild turkeys: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, and Gould’s.

Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (2)

Size and Weight:

The wild turkey is the heaviest member of the Galliformes order. The male typically weighs between 11 to 24 pounds and is 39 to 49 inches long. The female, significantly smaller than the male, weighs 5 to 12 pounds and is only 30 to 37 inches long. Despite their large size, wild turkeys can run at speeds up to 25 mph and fly up to 55 mph.


The male has a featherless, red head and throat and a body covered in red, bronze, and gold iridescent feathers. When trying to attract a mate, the male will display, fluffing out the feathers on his body, fanning out his tail feathers, and dragging his wings as he struts. The male typically has a “beard,” a patch of course feathers growing from the center of its breast. The female’s plumage is duller, consisting mostly of browns. Each wild turkey has approximately 5000 to 6000 feathers. Other distinctive physical features:

Spurs: Bony spikes on the back of each of the turkey’s lower leg. The male will use his spurs to spar with other males.

Wattle: A flap of skin under the turkey’s chin.

Caruncles: Fleshy bumps that grow on the turkey’s head and throat.

Snood: A fleshy flap that hangs from the beak.

While both the male and female have spurs, wattles, caruncles, and snoods, they are far smaller and less distinctive on the female.

Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (3)


The wild turkey is an omnivore. It feeds on acorns, nuts, seeds, berries as well as small amphibians and reptiles.


Wild turkeys can be found in open woodland, savanna, grasslands, and swamps.


The wild turkey is native to North America and is primarily found in eastern and central areas of the United States.

Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (4)


Male wild turkeys are polygamous, mating with several female hens during each mating season. In the spring, a male gives a gobbling call to attract females. To attract a female, the male displays by puffing out his feathers, raising and spreading his tail, and dragging his wings. Then in this exaggerated posture, they strut, rattling the wing feathers and making humming sounds. This behavior is commonly referred to as strutting.

After breeding, the female typically lays about 10-15, sometimes 4-18, over a two-week period, though larger clutches of eggs have been observed. Nests are shallow dirt depressions surrounded by vegetation. The female will incubate her eggs for about 28 days.

The male provides 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. The chicks band into groups as they grow, which can compose of several hens and their broods. Winter groups can exceed 200 turkeys.

Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (5)

Social Structure:

Male wild turkeys breed with multiple females and form all-male flocks outside of the breeding season. Meanwhile, adult females lead the chick-rearing. 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.

While they mostly walk around, wild turkeys can also run and fly. When they feel 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 often roost in flocks, but sometimes individually.


Wild turkeys live about three to five years in the wild.


Wild Turkeys have several natural predators, including coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, mountain lions, Golden Eagles and Great Horned Owls. Nest predators include raccoons, opossums, striped skunks, gray foxes, woodchucks, rat snakes, bull snakes, birds, and rodents.

Wild turkeys are popular among hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 21 percent of all U.S. hunters pursue turkey, making it the second most-sought game after deer. At the beginning of the 20th-century, wild turkey populations were decreasing due to hunting and habitat loss. But beginning in the 1940s, efforts to save the species have helped populations rebound considerably. In the early 1900s populations were estimated at 30,000. Current numbers of wild turkeys are estimated at 7 million.

Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (6)

Conservation Status:

The wild turkey is currently listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

Conservation Efforts:

The wild turkey is listed as “Least Concern” and populations increasing, thanks to the help of conservation efforts. In the early 20th-century, unsuccessful efforts were made to use farm turkeys to restore wild populations. By the late 1940s, they began to successfully transplant wild-caught turkeys into suitable habitats.

Sources: a previous NATURE post, All About Birds from Cornell University and the National Audubon Society.

Wild Turkey Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (2024)


What is unique about wild turkeys? ›

Wild turkeys sleep in trees. The birds are usually seen walking so many people are surprised they even fly. Though they only fly for short distances, they are speedy and can hit about 55 miles per hour when going full tilt.

What is the #1 predator of the wild turkey? ›

The most significant group of predators effecting turkey populations are the nest predators. This group is broad, and is composed of everything from crows to armadillos. Perhaps the most notable of this suite are the raccoon, skunk, and opossum.

How to tell the difference between a male and female wild turkey? ›

Dark, brown-blackBodyLight, rusty brown
Long bristle/filament-like beardBeardUsually no beard
PresentSpursUsually absent
Gobble, drumCallsYelps, clucks, cuts
3 more rows

Do wild turkeys sleep in trees? ›

Yes! Turkeys do roost in trees. They look a little awkward up there, but they are actually very strong fliers and know the best places to avoid predators.

Do wild turkeys recognize humans? ›

Wild turkeys have an uncanny and somewhat scary ability to recognize our voices and appearance.

What do wild turkeys do at night? ›

Wild turkeys are active during the day; roosting in large trees at night to avoid predators.

What colors can turkeys see? ›

Not only do turkeys see many of the colors we see on the spectrum, but they also see UV light. Oftentimes, clothing and clothing detergent have UV brighteners in these, and when camo has elevated levels of this unwanted element, hunters appear as glowing beacons to these sight-centric birds.

Do male turkeys stay with females? ›

turkeys, often called “heritage” turkeys, can live in mixed-sex flocks so long as everyone gets along well. However, you may find that males (toms ) get along with each other better if they live away from female turkeys entirely. In a mixed-sex flock, it's usually easiest to have one tom living with a few turkey hens.

What is a wild turkeys worst enemy? ›

Coyotes are among the most formidable predators of wild turkeys, targeting everything from eggs in nests to adult birds they can capture.

What kills turkeys at night? ›

eagles, Hawks, and owls – Hawks and eagles are some of the few daytime predators of turkeys; owls hunt at night. These three birds of prey leave behind a lot of feathers at the feed site, as they do not like to eat feathers – plucking most of them while they feed.

What is poisonous to wild turkeys? ›

It may not come as a surprise that herbicides and rodenticides can cause toxicosis in turkeys if ingested. If turkeys ingest plants or insects that have been sprayed they can become ill or even die.

How fast can a wild turkey run? ›

Wild turkeys can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour – They can fly as fast as 55 miles per hour. A group of related male turkeys will band together to court females, though only one member of the group gets to mate – Talk about great wingmen!

Where do wild turkeys nest? ›

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

How far do wild turkeys travel? ›

Animal foods consist of larvae, grasshoppers and beetles. Wild turkeys generally move a mile or two in one day depending on habitat and distance to food and water sources.

What are 4 interesting facts about turkey? ›

20 Fascinating Facts about Incredible Turkey
  • Istanbul is on two continents. Let's start with a classic: Istanbul lives on two continents. ...
  • Turkey has a young demographic. Turkey has the EU's largest young population. ...
  • Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts. ...
  • We owe coffee to the Turks.

Can a turkey see color? ›

Turkeys have excellent eyesight, seeing three times more clearly than 20/20 vision. They can also see in color and have a 270-degree field of vision. This—along with their generally wary nature—gives them an edge on both predators and hunters.

What is special about turkey? ›

Turkey is a breathtaking place for people who wish to see stunning architecture and empires. The mesmerising beauty, mouth-watering delicacies, and vibrant and rich culture here attract people from all around the globe. Turkey is a must-visit place, but it is a large country with so many things to offer.

How fast can turkeys run? ›

Wild turkeys can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour – They can fly as fast as 55 miles per hour. A group of related male turkeys will band together to court females, though only one member of the group gets to mate – Talk about great wingmen!

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lakeisha Bayer VM

Last Updated:

Views: 5922

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lakeisha Bayer VM

Birthday: 1997-10-17

Address: Suite 835 34136 Adrian Mountains, Floydton, UT 81036

Phone: +3571527672278

Job: Manufacturing Agent

Hobby: Skimboarding, Photography, Roller skating, Knife making, Paintball, Embroidery, Gunsmithing

Introduction: My name is Lakeisha Bayer VM, I am a brainy, kind, enchanting, healthy, lovely, clean, witty person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.