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Fowls and Pheasants: Phasianidae

Wild Turkey (meleagris Gallopavo): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Weighs 6.6 to 24.2 pounds (3 to 11 kilograms) and measures 30 to 49 inches (76 to 125 centimeters), with males larger than females. Females are dull in color, but males have bare blue and pink heads, red wattles, and dark plumage with metallic green and bronze highlights. Legs are pink.

Geographic range: Found in Mexico and the United States from Vermont to Florida and west to Washington, Oregon, and California.

Habitat: Though the wild turkey prefers a mix of hardwood forest and grassland, it can survive tropical forest and scrub areas.

Diet: The wild turkey eats leaves, shoots, seeds, buds, fruits, berries, grains, insects, spiders, and sometimes small vertebrates (animals with backbones). It searches for food by picking at the ground.

Behavior and reproduction: Wild turkeys live on home ranges that sometimes overlap. Each range has a male hierarchy as well as a female hierarchy, with the strongest of each sex at the top. They're vocal birds and have a wide variety of calls.

These birds are polygamous (puh-LIH-guh-mus; one male has several female mates). Mating takes place in the spring, and courtship includes strutting and gobbling by the males. Clutch sizes range from eight to fifteen eggs, and females incubate them for twenty-seven to twenty-eight days. Chicks fly for the first time between six and ten days, and they remain with the mother until the springtime. Predators include bobcats, foxes, and great horned owls.

Wild turkeys are vocal—they have a variety of calls that they use. Males gobble during courtship, the time before mating when they attract mates. (John Shaw/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Wild turkeys and people: These are popular game birds. Towns across America have turkey-calling contests.

Conservation status: Overhunting reduced the population dramatically in the early twentieth century, but careful conservation and management have successfully restored numbers. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsFowls and Pheasants: Phasianidae - Behavior And Reproduction, Fowls And Pheasants And People, Wild Turkey (meleagris Gallopavo): Species Accounts - PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS, GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS