Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 14:39
Common Name: Wild Turkey
Also referred to as: Merriam’s Turkey
Genus species: Meleagris gallopavo
Recognized subspecies: M. g. silvestris, M. g. osceola, M. g. intermedia, M. g. merriami, M. g. mexicana, M. g. gallopavo
- Total length: Male, 100-125 cm; female, 76-95 cm
- Wingspan ranges from 125-144 cm
- Weight: Males, 5-11 kg; females, 3-5.4 kg
- Large fan-shaped tail, long neck, long powerful legs, long beak
- Wild Turkey males possess a waddle, snood and caruncle. The head and neck are mostly bare skin. Metallic-iridescent feathering of the body is dark on males; tipped with white or rust on females. The beard of Meleagris gallopavo consists of a tuft of coarse bristles that hang down from the upper breast, typical of males, and is not as fully developed on females. Length of bristles may vary from 139 to 325 mm. In the spring, the male’s head is red to bluish-white in contrast to the dull grey of the female.
- Males have spurs on the tarsals which reach full development in the adult; these can average 24 mm in length.
North American Distribution
Movements and Migratory Habits
Diet and Foraging Strategy
North American Distribution:
- M. gallopavo is traditionally found from southern Ontario, south through the eastern United States; in addition to the south-western United States and Mexico.
- Within Alberta, the Wild Turkey was first introduced in 1962 in the Cypress Hills Provincial Park; they have since been introduced to the Porcupine Hills, near Stettler, along the Milk River, along the Belly River, Lees Lake, and Todd Creek area; and can be found within the Grassland and Rocky Mountain Natural Regions.
- Most often found within mature deciduous forests with scattered openings.
- Winter habitat is often open fields, including crop fields; as well as small riparian areas surrounding seeps and springs.
- Nesting of the Wild Turkey often occurs within wooded habitats; brooding habitat includes fields or grassy meadows, where insects are plentiful.
- Once the poults can fly, the flock will roost in trees at night.
Movements and Migratory Habits:
- M. gallopavo is not generally consider a migrant.
- Wild Turkeys may travel 5-6 km per hour of foraging, daily.
- Daily movements are reduced during winter; larger flocks are formed.
- Home ranges vary from 160 to more than 800 ha, depending on the season; winter ranges are smaller.
Diet and Foraging Strategy:
- Meleagris gallopavo forage on the ground in flocks, often feeding extensively at one place, then moving 800 m or more where feeding resumes.
- A flock will often spend several hours in a rather restricted area when feeding on mast.
- Animal foods include: insects, spiders, snails, and salamanders.
- The proportion of animal foods in the diet depends on habitat, age and season; poults require a high protein diet during the early stages of life, and adults seek animal foods during the spring.
- Acorns, nuts, seeds, fruits and buds are also part of their diet.
- Waste grain, silage and livestock manure provide a valuable seed source during the winter.
- The breeding season occurs between early April and early June.
- During courtship the tom exhibits an elaborate feather display accompanied by slow movements.
- During the courtship display, feathers on the back, breast, and flank are erected, wings are lowered to the ground, and the tail is held upright and spread like a large fan. The neck is pulled back against the body and held in an S-shape.
- The snood becomes turgid and elongated and caruncles change from red to blue.
- Other displays include taking quick steps towards the hen, with the primaries dragging on the ground.
- Nests are scraped out on the ground and lined with dead leaves or other vegetation; often at the base of a tree, in cut-over areas with high amounts of slash, or beneath brush piles (commonly on moderately steep slopes).
- Nest dimensions can range from 20-28 cm wide, 24-34 cm long, and about 2 cm deep.
- Egg measurements may vary between sub species. M. g. silvestris range 59 x 45-68.5 x 46 mm, M. g. merriami range 40.5 x 49-64.5 x 46 mm.
- Colour of the eggs are buffy-white or pale buff and are marked with pinkish or reddish-brown spots.
- Clutch size ranges from 10-18 eggs, laid over a period of two weeks.
- Incubation period is 27-28 days (by the hen only).
- Hatching may occur from mid April to mid July.
- Re-nesting is common if the first nesting attempt is unsuccessful.
- Total hatching occurs in about a 24 to 36 hour time period.
- Poults are precocial (hen passes food directly to the young only during the first few days).
- Poults can fly by the time they are 2-3 weeks of age.
- Male poults are cared for by the hen until the fall, care for female poults extends to early spring.
- Federal: Not listed.
- Provincial: Exotic/Alien.
- The number of applicants for the annual turkey draw has increased from 610 in 1997 to 2074 in 2001. The government increased the number of resident-only turkey tags from 50 to 200 for the 2005 spring gobbler season.
Wild Turkey photo © 2008 Paul Tessier. Retrieved from www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-5662004-wild-turkey.php on 22/09/09. Used with permission.
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD). 2008. Search species and status category: Wild Turkey. <http://www.srd.gov.ab.ca/fishwildlife/speciesatrisk/statusofalbertawildspecies/search.aspx>. Accessed 29 May 2009.
Balcomb, J. F. 2005. An analysis of the economic and environmental impacts of the introduction of Wild Turkeys and hunting in nearby North American jurisdictions. J. F. Balcomb & Associates. Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick, Canada.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2009. All About Birds: Wild Turkey. Cornell University, New York, USA. <http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wild_Turkey/lifehistory>. Accessed 14 October 2009.
Federation of Alberta Naturalists. 2007. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta: A Second Look. Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Godfrey, W. E. 1986. The Birds of Canada. Revised edition. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museum of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.
Government of Canada. Species at Risk Public Registry. 2009. <http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/sar/index/default_e.cfm>. Accessed 14 October 2009.
Hofman, D. E. 1975. A summary of the current status of Wild Turkeys in Alberta. Fish and Wildlife Division Department of Recreation, Parks, and Wildlife. Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2009. Wild Turkey. <http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7062.html>. Accessed 14 October 2009.
Salt, W. R. 1966. The Birds of Alberta. Second edition. Government of Alberta, Department of industry and Development, Edmonton, Alberta.