Scientific Name: Meteagris gallopava silvestris
(Information for this species page was gathered by Ms. Sherri Fawcett as part of an assignment in Biology 220W, Spring 2004)
The eastern wild turkey (Meteagris gallopava silvestris) is the most abundant and most widely occurring sub-species of the five types of wild turkeys. Its natural range includes almost all of the eastern United States. The wild turkey is the largest game bird in North America. Male turkeys (“gobblers”) are between 2 ½ and 3 feet tall and weigh on average 16 pounds (with some individuals weighing in considerably larger!). Female turkeys (“hens”) are on average 2 feet tall with average weights of 9 to 10 pounds. Gobblers have shiny, black feathers, a red head, a red “beard” that can be up to 1 foot long, and sharp spurs on their legs. Hens are a duller, dark gray, and rarely have either leg spurs or beards. There are many variations in color (white to reddish brown) some of which may be due to genetic traits and others of which are due to deficiencies in nutrition.
Range, Habitat and Diet
Turkeys are omnivorous and consume a wide range of food stuffs depending on season and food availability. In the spring they eat plant shoots, buds, insects, tubers, and any overwintering mast (acorns etc). In the summer they consume vegetation and many large insects (especially grasshoppers and beetles), other invertebrates (snails, slugs, spiders, ticks, and centipedes), and many small vertebrates (including salamanders, frogs, lizards, and even small snakes). In the fall they eat the newly fallen mast, fruit, and seeds and also waste grain from agricultural fields. Mast is especially important to turkeys, and good mast production years almost always lead to a surge in their populations.
Flocks and Territories
Mating and Reproduction
The female is able to store sperm and thus delay fertilization for up to 8 weeks depending on weather conditions and the availability of suitable nesting habitats. An ideal nesting habitat is typically in dense brush, tall grasses, or in areas of abundant fallen trees. Nests consist of a shallow depression in the ground that is lined with and covered by dried leaves and other pieces of vegetation. Eggs are laid one per day over a period of 8 to 20 days. Typically 10 to 15 eggs are deposited into the nest. The eggs are 2 ½ inches long, light brown in color with brown spots. The female covers each laid egg with leaves and then roosts in a tree nearby until all of her eggs have been laid, Only then does she begin incubation. After starting incubation she may sit on the nest nearly continuously for 28 days.
At the end of the incubation period the young turkeys (“poults) laboriously break out of their shells and are led almost immediately by the hen to a ground roosting area. For the next two weeks the poults and the hen will roost in as concealed and as safe a ground habitat as possible. This is the time, though, when a significant percentage of the poults are taken by a wide array of predators. Half to three fourths of each season’s poults will not survive their first year of life. At two weeks, the poults are capable of flying up into tree roosts and soon after the hen and her surviving poults will rejoin a hen-and-poult flock. The average life expectancy of a poult is about 1 ½ years. Turkeys that survive their first year, though, have little to fear from any predator (except humans) and can live up to 15 years in their natural habitats. In the fall, young gobblers will leave the hen flocks and form or join gobbler flocks.
Population Control in Pennsylvania
There are many wild turkeys out on our nature trail. If you walk the trail quietly, you may see one. But you should know that they will see you long before you notice them!
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This page was last updated on
October 8, 2013