Meleagris gallopavo
(wild turkey)

Geographic Range

Meleagris gallopavo has one of the widest distributions among game birds of North America. Wild turkeys are found from the western and southern United States to the Atlantic seaboard and New England. Throughout the range there are six sub-species. There is only one other species of wild turkey, ocellated turkeys (Meleagris ocellata) that are found in Central America.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (native ).


Habitats preferred by wild turkeys include mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, agricultural fields, orchards, and seasonal marshes.

These animals are found in the following types of habitat: temperate ; terrestrial .

Terrestrial Biomes: forest .

Wetlands: marsh .

Other: agricultural .

Physical Description

3.60 to 11 kg
(7.92 to 24.2 lbs)

Male wild turkeys have dark, iridescent bodies. The flight feathers are black with brown stripes and are barred with white. Meleagris gallopavo has red wattles, a caruncle, and a blackish breast tuft. The wattle is the fleshy lobes that hang down from the chin or throat. The caruncle is the wart-like projections of skin attached to the upper part of the forehead. The legs are spurred and spurs can grow as long as 3.175 centimeters. The leg scales are pink, pinkish gray, or silver gray. The head of the adult gobbler (male) is red, blue, or white depending on the season. Female M. gallopavo are smaller and duller than males, and lack a breast tuft. Females also have a grayish head and the back of the neck is feathered.

Male gobblers can range anywhere from 15 to 25 pounds (6.8 to about 11 kg). Hens are usually smaller and weigh in between 8 to 12 pounds (3.6 to 5.4 kg). Weight varies considerably depending on the time of year and resource availability.

Some key physical features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry .

Sexual dimorphism: male larger, sexes colored or patterned differently, male more colorful.


During the spring, males will fan out their tails, strut and gobble in an attempt to attract and hold a harem of females. The calls of male wild turkeys (also called a gobble) can be heard 1.61 kilometers away. Wild turkeys are polygynous.

Mating systems: polygynous .

Breeding begins during the spring and eggs are laid two to three weeks after copulation. The hen usually nests on the ground in a depression, and the nest is usually surrounded by dense brush, vines, tangles, deep grass, or fallen tree tops. The nest contains 8 to 15 eggs. The incubation period is 28 days and the young fledge in 6 to 10 days.

Key reproductive features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous .

Females are responsible for the care of the precocial young.

Parental investment: no parental involvement; precocial ; pre-hatching/birth; pre-weaning/fledging; pre-independence (protecting: female).


The lifespans of wild turkeys vary from 5-12 years.


By day M. gallopavo can be seen grazing in fields and woodlands. At night M. gallopavo roosts in trees. Meleagris gallopavo is a very wary bird with keen eyesight and hearing. It is also a swift runner and one of the fastest flying game birds alive. A turkey has been recorded flying 88.5 kilometers per hour. In the fall, M. gallopavo form flocks with several males accompanying several females. There is no calling (unless the flock gets broken up) and there are no displays similar to those seen in the spring. The main objective is to gather enough fat reserves for the winter.

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

Key behaviors: flies; diurnal ; motile ; social .

Communication and Perception

During the spring, males will fan out their tails, strut and gobble in an attempt to attract and hold a harem of females. The call of male wild turkeys (also called a gobble) can be heard 1.61 kilometers away.

Communicates with: visual ; acoustic .

Perception channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical .

Food Habits

Meleagris gallopavo forage mostly on the ground for seeds, nuts, acorns, buds, berries and insects. They usually forage during daylight hours, but are sometimes on the ground looking for food shortly before dawn.

Animal Foods: insects.

Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit.


We do not have information on predation for this species at this time.

Ecosystem Roles

Wild turkeys have an impact on the prey they eat and the plants whose seeds and nuts they consume.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of wild turkeys on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Meleagris gallopavo is one of the most popular game birds in the United States. Turkey hunting brings millions of dollars to states' Department of Natural Resources, public, and private organizations. Turkey hunting enhances conservation efforts by preserving habitat and creating selective hunting seasons to ensure healthy population numbers. There are numerous organizations that want to keep wild turkeys plentiful in many regions of the country.

Ways that people benefit from these animals: food .

Conservation Status

Wild turkeys are plentiful and are not endangered or threatened. In fact, many states are starting to introduce M. gallopavo into previously uninhabited areas to increase its range and distribution.

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