Wild Turkey


Scientific Name

Meleagris gallopavo

Species Survival Plan



Open woodlands with clearings, forest edges, brushy areas and semiarid mountains in the American Southwest


Man, coyote, fox, bobcat, owl, hawk, eagle, feral dog
At nest site - raccoon, skunk, snake, opossum, feral cat


Acorns, seeds, fruit, nuts, insects, grasshoppers and small invertebrates

Originally Native To

North America


37 - 46 inches


Male 11-24 lb. / Female 5.5-12 lb.


Turkeys have small heads, round wings and long tail feathers with dark iridescent body feathers and bare heads with pink and blue coloration

Gestation Period

27 - 28 days


4 - 17 eggs

Birth Season

June - August


Wild 3 - 4 years
Captivity 10 - 12 years

Social Behavior



About Wild Turkey

Wild turkeys are the largest North American game bird and the fowl that was Benjamin Franklin’s choice for America’s national bird. With a wingspan of up to six feet, turkeys are the largest bird in their natural habitat by far.

They are related to grouse, quail, and pheasants. There are six subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States with the Rio Grande subspecies being the primary one found in Texas.

At one time, habitat loss, hunting, and diseases spread by native poultry came close to wiping them out. During the 1940s, an introduction program was instigated that has proven most successful.

Wild turkeys have long legs, wide and rounded tails, and a small head on a long, slim neck. The red fleshy lobe hanging from their chin is called a "wattle." A turkey has 5,000-6,000 feathers covering its body.

Male turkeys, also called “toms” or “gobblers,” sport a “beard” consisting of a tuft of black filamentous feathers protruding from their breast. Females, also known as “hens,” are smaller than the males and have less impressive plumage.

Young male turkeys are called “jakes” and have shorter tail feathers and a shorter beard than the adult males. Turkeys have excellent eyesight with a wild field of vision but limited depth perception and they do not see nearly as well at night.

Also, they have a keen sense of hearing despite having no external ears. Turkeys do not have a strong sense of smell and the region of their brain that controls smell is very small compared to other animals.

Wild turkeys live in mature forests, particularly nut trees such as oak, hickory, or beech, interspersed with edges and fields. You may also see them along roads and in woodsy backyards.

Turkeys travel in flocks and search on the ground for nuts, berries, insects, and snails. They use their strong feet to scratch leaf litter out of the way. Other potential food items might include leaves, seeds, grains, buds, roots, spiders, frogs, lizards, and small snakes.

They usually run rather than fly from danger and can run about 25 mph, but are quite capable short-distance flyers with a maximum speed of 55 mph. They spend the early morning and late afternoon foraging before frequently flying into trees to roost at night.

In early spring, males gather in clearings to perform courtship displays. They puff up their body feathers, flare their tails into a vertical fan, and strut slowly while giving a characteristic gobbling call. The male's gobbling, which can be heard up to a mile away, is a key part of his bid to attract a mate. Mating season occurs in March and April.

There are two major characteristics that distinguish males from females: spurs and beards. The spurs can grow to almost two inches and the beards are a prized trophy for some hunters.

In most areas, the nest can be found in a shallow dirt depression, concealed in grass or shrubs. The female builds the nest and lines it with dead leaves and grass.

She lays an egg per day until she reaches a clutch of 4-17 eggs, which she incubates for 27-28 days. A newly hatched brood must be ready to leave the nest within 12-24 hours to feed.

The male turkey takes no role in their upbringing. Mothers will feed the "poults" (young turkeys) for just a few days before they must take responsibility for their own foraging.

Poults tend to eat a lot of insects. Young will stay with their mothers, sometimes combining with other family units, throughout the winter.

Of all domesticated fowl, only the turkey and the Muscovy duck originated in the New World.

As a native species that can fly, it is no surprise that wild turkeys could potentially be seen in all Fossil Rim pastures.


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