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, and even cities.
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. The last Wild Turkey in Massachusetts was killed on Mount Tom in 1851.
Fast-forward to 1972, when the MA 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, a total of 37 birds were released. Today, the estimated fall population in Massachusetts is more than 20,000 birds.
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.
Brush up on your Wild Turkey terminology with Mass Audubon's handy chart.
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.
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!
Situations & Solutions
Wild turkeys are now a common fixture across all of Massachusetts, which means the chances of encountering them have increased as well. Turkeys thrive not only in rural populations but have been spotted in cities and suburbs as well.
If you have Wild Turkeys in your yard, there’s a good chance a bird feeder is nearby. If the turkeys aren’t causing a problem, you can let them be. But, turkeys can be aggressive, chasing people, pets, cars, and practically anything else that moves. You can also find them “attacking” their reflection in shiny cars or windows.
There are several options to fending off an aggressive wild turkey.
- Keep the area under bird feeders clean and, if necessary, stop feeding altogether to avoid attracting turkeys into the yard. Also, let neighbors know as well.
- String silver mylar streamers (found in party supply stores) from the top of 2 ½-foot-high stakes. The eye-level streamers will wave in the wind and reflect light, which should discourage turkeys from entering the area.
- Make loud noise, such as banging pots and pans together, when a turkey approaches.