Almost everyone knows that Ben Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be our national symbol, rather than the bald eagle. But do you know why? Well, it seems that in those days everywhere you looked there was a wild turkey strutting about. Not only that, but he admired the beautiful mating display when the male’s tail feathers were unfurled in all their glory. Plus, the familiar “gobble, gobble” further endeared the wild turkey to Old Ben.
Nowadays we are more familiar with the domesticated white turkey that we enjoy at Thanksgiving. By the way, why is the domestic turkey white? Many years ago our wild turkey was bred with the Mexican turkey resulting in the color change. There is still evidence of the wild turkey in the dark brown tail tips of the kind we eat today.
Should You Feed Wild Turkeys?
There is a long-standing controversy over whether people should interfere with the natural course of things. However, turkeys forage for food on the forest floor. They scratch at the dirt and overturn leaves and branches. When you have a foot of snow covered by a layer of ice, it's extremely difficult to do any scratching for food. That is why I am a strong advocate of gathering acorns in the autumn so that I can leave them under my bird feeders for the turkeys when the snow is deep. I also scatter sunflower seeds and cracked corn on top of the snow for the wild turkeys. I get a great satisfaction out of helping them to survive the worst winter conditions.
What Else Do Wild Turkeys Eat?
Turkeys are omnivorous. In addition to acorns, they love all other kinds of nuts: hickory nuts, hazel nuts, butternuts, etc.
Fruit is another part of their diet, as well as sunflower and other flower and weed seeds, cracked corn, insects and salamanders. We have plenty of salamanders hiding under rocks in our woods, and there's no shortage of insects either!
Where Do Turkeys Sleep?
I'll never forget one morning when I started up into the woods for a walk. All of a sudden I heard all this wing beating and peeping and clucking sounds high in the trees over my head. I had disturbed a flock of wild turkeys that had been roosting in the tall white pines! At sunset turkeys fly up into the trees to roost for the night. They are much safer there than on the ground where foxes, wild dogs, coyotes, etc. find them easy nighttime prey.
How Fast Can They Fly?
These amazing birds can go from zero to 55 mph in a very few seconds.
They can also run. Their top running speed is 20 mph! They maintain a good steady walking pace as well. Covering several miles a day is normal for them.
How Many Babies Do Turkeys Have?
A female turkey will choose a bush in the woods under which she will lay a clutch of tan and brown speckled eggs from 4 to 17 in number.
Mama will indulge her chicks by feeding them, but only for the first few days. She roosts on the ground with her babies, also called 'poults', during this time. After that they are on their own and quickly learn to forage for themselves. However, her young will travel with her in a flock all year right through the winter.
Wild Turkey Hen
We've All Seen Tom Turkeys, But What Do the Hens Look Like?
A Hen Turkey's head has a blue/black color, while the Tom Turkey has a red head with a white spot on the top. Male turkeys are quiet, secretive and elusive most of the time. However when they are trying to secure their harem of hens, they make clucking and peeping sounds, and sometimes a low drumming comes from deep in their throats.
The female is a drab brown/black color and quite thin in the spring. But come autumn all the turkeys take on a much plumper shape. Turkeys have a 'wattle', which is a flap of skin under their chin. The other flap of skin that hangs over their beaks is called a 'snood'. Both can turn bright red when the turkey is agitated or excited.
How Heavy Do Wild Turkeys Become?
Having to make their way in the wild keeps turkeys slimmer than their domestic counterparts. They will weigh from 5 to 19 pounds. Their body measures a hefty 3-1/2 to almost 4 feet with a wingspan of 4 to almost 5 feet!
Domestic turkeys weigh twice as much as wild turkeys and are much too heavy to fly!
How Long Do Turkeys Live?
The average life span of a turkey in the wild is only 3 or 4 years. With all the predators out there and the survival challenges, you can see why that is the case.
Also, their territories are shrinking rapidly. Their fondness for hardwood forests that are attached to grassy fields provides them with good food sources, roosting and hiding places. Unfortunately, hardwood forests are being cut down to supply materials for human habitation.
Range Map of Wild Turkeys in North America
How Much Do You Know About Wild Turkeys?
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- How Many Eggs Does A Female Wild Turkey Lay?
- 4 to 17
- 5 to 12
- How Fast Can a Wild Turkey Fly?
- 25 to 35 mph
- 50 to 55 mph
- What is a Turkey Wattle?
- A flap of skin over the beak
- A flap of skin under the chin
- What Color Is A Hen Turkey?
- brown/black with blue/black head
- black with red head
- How Long Is the Average Life Span of a Wild Turkey?
- 5 to 6 years
- 3 to 4 years
- 4 to 17
- 50 to 55 mph
- A flap of skin under the chin
- brown/black with blue/black head
- 3 to 4 years
Steven M on February 06, 2020:
Kathie V that was a peliated woodpecker.
Kathie Vanderpool on June 23, 2018:
Recently I moved in a rural area with all the beauty of a surrounding forest, ponds & grassy area. Each morning dog walk, both of us, have had the pleasure of being greeted by White Tailed Deer, Northern Wild Turkeys, plenty of singing birds (even an extra large Red Headed Woodpecker), I’ve never seen such a large Woodpecker.
On today’s walk I’ve learned as I quietly watched a male and two female turkeys graze on grassy area that these turkeys do fly, I must have startled them. TheTom was quickly in the air at approximately 8-10 ft high and the females shortly followed, they flew quickly to coverage of very tall grass. I was amazed they flew, I never knew that they were able to do this. It was a beautiful sight.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 18, 2015:
Grandmapearl, this is a great hub about wild turkeys which answered a lot of questions we all had about them. Voted up!
Debra Allen from West By God on May 14, 2014:
We have wild turkeys in our woods. They do not come around all the time though. You are correct in that they do make lots of noise. Ours have to compete for food from other critters in the forest here....mostly deer and squirrels and birds. I once went to someone's house and in their yard was a very big turkey that protected that yard so much so that I could not get out of my car.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 14, 2014:
Most people only know of the grossly mutated form of the turkey on farms. The wild turkey is an amazing creature on every level, from beauty to athletic prowess. They are truly amazing and under-appreciated creatures. Very informative.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on November 20, 2013:
JPSO138, I'm so pleased you stopped by! Turkeys are indeed awesome animals. They always take my breath away when I first see them under my feeders in the wintertime. I appreciate your visit and your comments. Have a wonderful day ;) Pearl
JPSO138 from Cebu, Philippines, International on November 19, 2013:
I have turkeys at home. Around 4 of them. So true indeed that they lay eggs in the bushes and just anywhere. Very interesting hub.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on October 11, 2013:
Hi Crystal! Yep, they can really move when they have to. What overwhelmed me was seeing them take off from their roosts high up in the trees. I always thought of them as land-based only; that was an amazing sight. I'm so glad you stopped by! Thank you for the votes, they are very much appreciated ;) Pearl
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 11, 2013:
Who would have thought wild turkeys are speed demons! Very interesting, voting up and more.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on August 20, 2013:
Hi leatherwood! I'm glad you enjoyed the Wild Turkeys article. Thanks for your comments. Nature can be cruel as you know, but everything has to eat. It is very hard to witness these events; and as you say, they are a learning experience. I feel bad when I see any wild thing harmed or worse. At the same time, I know that foxes are having a hard time in this area right now. I guess it all balances out in the end.
I'm so glad you stopped by today. I hope you enjoy this awesome weather--I'm afraid autumn is just around the corner ;) Pearl
Marisa Horn from Ringtown, PA on August 19, 2013:
Great and informative page. I missed one of the questions on the quiz but I am not sure which one. Probably the one on the number of eggs. We have a lot of wild turkey out this way. I remember seeing one fly for the first and only time. A huge racket got me to check out what was going on. A fox with a baby ran right past me into the woods and a mother turkey came flying out of the field and landed up high in the trees. A sad event to watch that was at the same time quite interesting and a learning experience.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on May 09, 2013:
Mr Archer, That would certainly be an unforgettable event! My Mom was driving on a country road one day. There were large trees on one side that cast shadows, and out of those shadows came a turkey! She narrowly missed it, but was very shaken by the whole thing. So you are right, they can most definitely hide in plain sight!
I'm glad you shared your turkey story with me; I am still smiling. And thank you very much for the supportive comment. It is most welcome and appreciated. I'm pleased you stopped by for a visit ;) Pearl
Mr Archer from Missouri on May 08, 2013:
You failed to mention they can hide in plain sight and scare the bejeezus out of you! I had one sit under a tiny evergreen tree then fly out right next to me one day. Absolutely scared me to death.
Great work here giving solid information about a fascinating bird.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on March 05, 2013:
I'm so glad you stopped by to visit me and the turkeys! I will definitely check out your hub. One of my favorite things is to look at old pictures, especially of farming in the midwest. My grandparents were dairy farmers, so there's definitely a connection for me.
Thanks so much for sharing your story. I'm pleased you found this interesting. Your votes and shares are very much appreciated!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 05, 2013:
The last wild turkey I personally saw was up in the hill country of Texas where one of my brothers used to live. This was an interesting account all about wild turkeys and I learned much from reading this. I had a great aunt and uncle who used to raise turkeys. If you would like to see many photos, etc. of that enterprise, take a look at my hub titled Old Pictures of Farming in North Dakota in the early 1900s. It was a huge operation in its day and time. Voting this up and interesting and also sharing with my followers.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on February 03, 2013:
Hi moonlake! I'm so glad you stopped by to visit me and my turkeys! I got a kick out of your Butter Ball turkey story. I think it's awesome that your son feeds the turkeys. They definitely need all the help they can get. Thanks so much for your comments. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.
moonlake from America on February 02, 2013:
We have lots of wild turkeys around.
Our son's friend feed a wild turkey all the time they called him Butter Ball and when they would step outside and call his name he would come running.
We don't get turkeys at our feeding but our son does just down the road from us.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on January 30, 2013:
Hi ps! So glad you stopped by to visit my turkeys and me! So far I've had to leave acorns and bird seed on top of the snow several times this year. The last 2 winters before, there was no need because we had a snow drought. The beauty and size of my wild turkeys never ceases to amaze me. I'm so glad you have the opportunity to see them up close and personal. Unfortunately, with urban sprawl seeing a turkey in the wild is much more rare than it used to be. I too wish we could have this stunning bird as our national symbol!
Thanks for your great comments and for the Angels. I loved them both!
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on January 29, 2013:
This was very interesting, Pearl, and filled with much that I did not know. I did know about Ben's wish and I kind of wish we could have two national symbols.
You are such a dear for leaving the acorns for the turkeys in winter.
It is not uncommon to see wild turkeys here throughout the year here if you are in the right spot at the right time.
Sending you some Angels this evening :) ps
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on November 22, 2012:
Hi bigjessy! So glad you stopped by. Turkeys are really amazing birds. There's nothing like seeing them in person. I'm pleased you enjoyed this article, and I thank you for your comment. It is very much appreciated.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on November 04, 2012:
Hi Eddy, thank you so much for your wonderful and supportive comments. You lift my spirits with your kindness and generosity. So glad you found it interesting and will be sharing it. That makes me feel very special! I do indeed love and respect nature. I'm glad that my message shines through. Take care my friend, Pearl
Eiddwen from Wales on November 02, 2012:
What a brilliant hub Pearl ;like you I love nature and all her gifts.
This was so interesting and well informed.
I am saving this one and sharing onto my facebook page.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on October 01, 2012:
Hi sgbrown! So glad you liked this article about wild turkeys. I recently saw several hens just down the road from here. I love to hear them gobble, too! I can always tell when they are around in the spring from not only the gobbling, but that strange drum sound they make. They are amazing birds for sure. Thank you so much for the votes--they are very gratefully appreciated.
Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on September 30, 2012:
We have wild turkey here on our place. Right now there is a hen with 6 little poults that have been staying around. I love listening to them gobble! We did recently see about 12 turkeys the other day and 3 of them were Toms. Turkey season is just around the corner. I can't shoot them, but hubby does hunt and I do love having smoked turkey from the smoker he built! Great hub! Voting up and interesting! :)
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on September 22, 2012:
Hi tillsontitan! It has always amazed me that turkeys can fly at all! They seem so awkward and uncoordinated, until you actually catch sight of them taking flight. Nature has many tricks up her sleeve, and one of them is turkeys! So glad you enjoyed this hub. Thanks for the great comments and for the votes. They are very much appreciated.
Mary Craig from New York on September 21, 2012:
We have wild turkeys all around...always afraid we're going to hit one when driving in certain areas but I never knew so much about them. I had no idea they could fly so fast! Thanks for this informative hub.
Voted up, useful, and interesting.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on September 14, 2012:
Yes, that does give one pause, doesn't it? We could hardly want to sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner and eat our national bird!
Turkeys are so awesome to see in person. I have seen them in the spring when they are really scrawny. It's great to see that by autumn they have filled out and are plump from all their summer's worth of foraging. I save the extra acorns the squirrels have not eaten, and I keep them outside in a flower pot so they can be ready for the turkeys when the first snow hits!
Caren White on September 11, 2012:
Totally awesome hub! I live in NJ which is the most densely populated state in the country. Imagine my surprise when I saw a wild turkey early one morning. Since, then I seem to see them everywhere there is a patch of woods. Yes, I knew that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird and why. Ready for a bad joke about it? If Ben Franklin had had his way and the turkey became our national bird, does that mean that we would be eating eagle for Thanksgiving?
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on September 11, 2012:
Thank you ChristinS for your wonderful comments. Seeing wild turkeys up close and personal is an experience most people never enjoy! I am so fortunate, and so are you, to be able to see how beautiful they really are. I once was privileged to witness a male turkey displaying his gorgeous feathers for several females that were pecking away under the bird feeders. They didn't seem very impressed, but I sure was!
Christin Sander from Midwest on September 10, 2012:
What an informative hub. I've always admired the wild turkeys we see around here. We see them the heaviest in the fall at the edge of the woods and in the fields and I think they are absolutely beautiful. It was very interesting to read all about them. Next time I see them I will appreciate them even more.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 22, 2012:
Hi tweety816, thanks for stopping by and for asking a very good question. The answer depends upon whether the turkey is a male or female. The dozen or so group of turkeys you have been seeing are most likely from the same clutch. They usually stick together for quite sometime before striking out on their own. Males are more solitary and when the time comes, usually this time of year, they head out in search of their own harem of females. Females sometimes stay together in groups of 3 or 4, which can include the mother. I have seen one or two female turkeys strutting along and foraging in the woods all by themselves. So I don't think that your turkey has been 'kicked out of the group'. It's just a matter of maturing and moving on to the next stage in its life. Not all wild families stay together. Although there is safety in numbers when they are younger, turkeys have become very well adapted to living a solitary existence. The next step is to learn how to forage for different things that are available. It's quite possible they are still nearby, but staying out of sight. Thanks for the great question!
tweety816 on April 21, 2012:
This is very informative but I have a question. Typically I get a visit from a dozen or so wild turkeys but in the last week I have had one lonely turkey around, no one else in sight. Has he or she been kicked out of the group??
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on February 21, 2012:
Hi Nell, so great to see you. I'm glad you enjoyed this. It seems wild turkeys are very fond of roosting in trees. I never knew it until I was surprised by them one morning. I didn't know that you don't have them in England. Do you have anything that is their possible equivalent? I guess it's like hummingbirds. They only live in North and South America as well. Thanks for stopping by!
Nell Rose from England on February 20, 2012:
Hi, I never realised that they flew up to roost in a tree! wow! fascinating birds, I have never seen a wild turkey, but then again I do live in England! haha!
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on January 14, 2012:
cr00059n thanks for sharing your experience with these amazing crazy-looking birds. I have had several different groups of turkeys visit my yard to check out the seeds under the bird feeders. I have a habit of looking out at my feeders several times a day. It always makes me gasp when I see them out there. Sometimes in the summer they come and eat the sprouts from the fallen seeds. Thank you for stopping by and for the great comments!
cr00059n on January 12, 2012:
Turkey's really surprise me. Back in my college writing class during 5 to 6pm, a group of Turkeys outisde ran into the classroom window leaving a big bang sound. Then about three weeks later, another group of Turkeys are seen hanging alongside one of NY's fastest moving highways which is narrow and a bit windy. The last time I've seen a turkey is when President Obama pardoned one during Thanksgiving. Thanks for an awesome article.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on January 06, 2012:
Thanks Apostle Jack! I truly appreciate your uplifting comments. I am so glad you stopped by with your words of encouragement.
Apostle Jack from Atlanta Ga on January 06, 2012:
You did it well.I was well educated.Thanks for sharing.
I am amazed by all of nature.You make some wonderful presentations of the species.You are very inspirational.
Keep the ball rolling.
Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on October 23, 2011:
Thanks Esmeowl12! I appreciate that you found my wild turkey hub useful. They are amazing animals for sure.
Brian Burton on October 22, 2011:
Wow, only 3 to 4 years. Had no idea the lifespan is short.
Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on October 22, 2011:
This is an informative hub. We have wild turkeys everywhere where I live and I enjoy watching them. Voted up & useful!