Wild facts about Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys
A male, or tom, Wild Turkey. Photo by RelentlessImages/Shutterstock

Maybe you’re already dreaming about Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, all the pies. And maybe you thought you knew everything about turkeys. Think again.

You can encourage lively talk around your holiday table with these facts, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Turkeys don’t just gobble, they make a lot of different sounds. In fact, turkeys make all kinds of sounds, including a cackle when they fly, clucks and purrs, and an excited yelp. A male turkey’s gobble can be heard up to a mile away. Hear all of their sounds, thanks to the National Wild Turkey Federation.
  • Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.
  • An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers — count them! — on its body.
  • Turkeys are fast. They may look off-kilter — tilting their heads and staring at the sky — yet they’re fast. Turkeys can clock 18 miles per hour on foot and up to 50 miles per hour in flight. When they need to, turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking. Domesticated turkeys cannot fly.
  • Tom turkeys aren’t the only ones that swagger. It’s not just the males that fan their tail feathers to woo mates and ward off rivals. Some hens strut, too.
A hen turkey. Photo by James Pintar/Shutterstock
  • Adult male turkeys are called gobblers or toms, females are called hens. Young chicks are poults, while juvenile males are jakes and juvenile females are jennies. A flock of turkeys can be called a crop, dole, gang, posse, or rafter. Or you can just call them a “flock.”
  • Young turkeys — poults — scarf down insects like candy. They develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.
  • The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is one of only two birds native to North America that has been regularly domesticated, the other being the Muscovy Duck.
  • The English name “turkey” derives from historic shipping routes that passed through the country of Turkey on their way to delivering the birds to European markets.
  • There aresix distinct subspecies of Wild Turkeys: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and South Mexican.
  • The Wild Turkey’s closest relative is the Ocellated Turkey, a spectacular bird found only in southeastern Mexico, Belize, and northern Guatemala. One good place to see it is Tikal National Park in Guatemala.
  • Wild Turkey populations declined drasticallyin the late 1800s and early 1900s. Through conservation efforts over the last century, with funds derived from the Pittman-Robertson Act, and thanks to sportsmen and women, there are approximately 6.5 million wild birds in the United States today, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation. It is probably the most successful game bird restoration in history.

Finding Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys are not hard to find — if you look in the right place. National wildlife refuges are great places to find the birds. Refuge trails generally are open sunrise to sunset, many even on Thanksgiving Day when refuge visitor centers will be closed. Free trail maps are often available outside a visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. Find your trail online. Or check eBird for a real-time sightings map.

Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for this information.

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