Wild Turkey

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image: WildTurkey.jpg

Common Name: Wild Turkey
Scientific Name: Meleagris gallopavo

Size: Eastern Male: 46 inches, Eastern Female: 37 inches

Habitat: North America. Often found in open woods, fields, pastures and areas of shrubby growth.

Status: Not threatened. Government programs to benefit hunters have reintroduced populations. The range and numbers of the Wild Turkey had decreased dramatically at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and loss of habitat. Estimates concluded that the entire populations of Wild Turkeys in the United States was as low as 30,000 individuals. Game officials made efforts to protect and encourage the breeding of the surviving wild population. By the early 70’s, the total population was estimated to be 1.3 million wild turkeys. Current estimates place the entire wild turkey population at 7 million individuals.

Diet: Grasses, acorns, nuts (hazel, pine, chestnut and hickory), seeds, berries (juniper and bearberry), roots and insects. While 80% of the wild turkey’s diet comes from grasses, they are also known to occasionally consume small vertebrates like snakes, salamanders and frogs. Poults (turkey chicks) diet consists mostly of insects and seed.

Nesting: Males are polygamous, forming harems with as many as 5 hens. Male Turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, fanning out their tails and dragging their wings. This behavior is referred to as “strutting”. Portions of the head, snood and caruncle can become a bright red when the male becomes very excited. They also “gobble” excitedly; scraping and scratching at the ground to define their territory. Courtship begins during the months of March through April while turkeys are still in their winter flock.

When mating is finished, females search for nest sites. Nests are shallow dirt depressions engulfed with woody vegetation. Hens lay a clutch of 10-14 eggs, usually one per day. The eggs are incubated for at least 28 days.

Cool Facts: That traditional image of the brown turkey pictured during the American Thanksgiving Day holiday isn’t the one that ends up on the dinner table… The Aztecs domesticated the southern Mexican sub-species, M. g. mexicana, giving rise to the white feathered domesticated turkey. When the Spanish came to the “New World”, they brought back the domesticated turkey to Europe.

The pilgrim settlers of Massachusetts brought farmed turkeys with them from England, descendants of the original Mexican domesticated turkeys introduced into Europe by the Spanish, not realizing that they occurred wild in America. The domesticated turkey’s journey had come full circle. Turkey is a popular main dish for the Thanksgiving holiday, held in November in the United States and October in Canada.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founder fathers of the United States, evidentially preferred the Turkey to the Bald Eagle as the national bird of the United States. In his letter to his daughter in 1784, he wrote:

“For my own part, I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country...

I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”



While most wild turkey look very similar, there are subtle difference in the coloration and size of the six sub-species:

Eastern (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)

The range covers the entire eastern half of the United States; extending also into South Eastern Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces in Canada. They number from 5.1 to 5.3 million birds. They were first named forest turkey in 1817, and can grow up to 4 feet tall. The upper tail coverts are tipped with chestnut brown.

Osceola or Florida (M. g. osceola)

Found only on the Florida peninsula. They number from 80,000 to 100,000 birds. This bird is named for the famous Seminole Chief Osceola, and was first described in 1980. It is smaller and darker than the Eastern turkey. The wing feathers are very dark with smaller amounts of the white barring seen on other sub-species. Their overall body feathers are iridescent green-purple color.

Rio Grande (M. g. intermedia)

Ranges through Texas to Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Central and Western California, as well as parts of a few northeastern states. Rio Grande turkeys were also introduced to Hawaii in the late 1950s. Population estimates for this subspecies range from 1,022,700 to 1,025,700. This sub-species is native to the central plain states. They were first described in 1879, and have disproportionately long legs. Their body feathers often have a green-coppery sheen to them. The tips of the tail and lowrer back feathers are a buff-very light tan color. Habitats are brush areas next to streams, rivers or mesquite pine and scrub oak forests. Only turkey to be found up to 6,000 feet in elevation and are gregarious.

Merriam's (M. g. merriami)

Ranges through the Rocky Mountains and the neighboring prairies of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota as well as much of the high mesa country of New Mexico. They number from 334,460 to 344,460 birds. Live in ponderosa pine and mountain regions. Named in 1900 in honor of C. Hart Merriam, the first chief of the US Biological Survey. The tail and lower back feathers have white tips. They have purple and bronze reflections.

Gould's (M. g. mexicana)

Native from central to northern Mexico and the southern-most parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Heavily protected and regulated. First described in 1856. They exist in small numbers but are abundant in Northwestern portions of Mexico. A small population has been established in southern Arizona. Gould's are the largest of the five sub-species. They have longer legs, larger feet, and longer tail feathers. The main color of the body feathers are copper and greenish-gold.

South Mexican (M. g. gallopavo)

The nominate race, and one of the few that are not found in North America. This is the descendant of the domestic turkey.

Found in Songbird ReMix Wild Turkey

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