About Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkey

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Brush up on your wild turkey terminology in our handy chart

The return of the Wild Turkey to New England is a marvelous success story. Once all but extinct from Massachusetts, this iconic bird can be found just about anywhere—woods, suburbs, even cities.

History

When Europeans first settled in Massachusetts, wild turkeys were plentiful throughout the state. With an increasing population, however, over-hunting occurred and forests were gradually cut down for farmland, thus eliminating the turkey’s habitat. In 1851, the last wild turkey in Massachusetts was killed on Mount Tom. 

In 1972, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (now known as Mass Wildlife), in cooperation with the University of Massachusetts, received permission to live-trap turkeys in New York state and release them in Massachusetts. Between 1972 and 1973, 37 birds were released. Today, the estimated fall population is more than 20,000 birds. 

Appearance

A wild turkey can stand four feet tall, with a large, bulky body covered with bronzy, iridescent feathers. The tom (male) has a reddish blue head and a hair-like “beard” protruding from the breast. The smaller female is duller in coloration than the male.

Food

Adults feed largely on plant material, including nuts, berries, grains, seeds, grass, roots, and bulbs, but they will also supplement their diet with small invertebrates. The young feed mainly on insects.

Behavior

In the spring, tom turkeys make their famous gobble in order to lure in females. Courtship begins when the tom spreads its tail, fluffs out its feathers, swells out the facial wattles, and struts in front of the females. Males are polygamous, and will mate with several females if given the opportunity. Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour. Not only can turkeys fly, they also roost in trees at night.