The wild turkey is the same species as the domesticated turkey. The differences in the two races are due to selective breeding such as has produced the different races of dogs and other domesticated animals. Male turkeys, or Toms, have a naked head that is very colorful, with fleshy red “wattles” on the throat and neck. Males fan their tail feathers and strut to court and impress females. Turkeys inhabit hardwood and mixed pine forests where they forage on nuts, acorns, and other “hard mast” foods, as well as fruiting berries.

They range throughout the United States, only being absent from the harshest desert regions. They are strong fliers for short distances, but often remain on the ground when fleeing a predator, where they can run up to 20 miles per hour. Males will mate with many females in a polygamous pattern. Females lay 10-18 eggs in shallow depressions on the ground surrounded by shrubby vegetation for camouflage. Young are active shortly after hatching (precocious) and leave the nest during the first day. Many bird and mammal predators raid turkey nests and take hatchlings, making the brood period and the first two weeks after hatching the time when most mortality occurs. Though the U.S. turkey population declined to about 30,000 in the 1930s due to hunting pressure, conservation measures have succeeded in a revival of the species to the current number of some 7 million wild birds today and increasing.

Photos by James Taulman taken at Parkville, MO. Nikon P510 and Bushnell Trophycam game camera.

James Taulman is a semi-retired research wildlife biologist, having worked with the U.S. Forest Service research branch and taught zoology, ecology, and other courses in several university positions. He is currently living in the East Mountains, and explores natural areas observing native wildlife and conducting independent research projects.