Learn All About Meleagris Gallopavo, The Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo scrapes the forest floor, turns over dead leaves and pecks at plants. It feeds on berries, herbs, shoots, seeds, roots and tubers. It varies its vegetarian diet with some insects, such as locusts, or with some small crustaceans, mollusks and even amphibians.

There are 6 Subspecies

  • Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo (Mexico)
  • Meleagris gallopavo silvestris (Canada and USA)
  • Meleagris gallopavo osceola (Florida, USA)
  • Meleagris gallopavo intermedia (Texas to Mexico)
  • Meleagris gallopavo mexicana (Mexico)
  • Meleagris gallopavo merriami (United States)

Use of Wild Turkeys by Amerindians

Amerindians used various techniques to hunt or capture wild turkeys. Among them were the use of nets, snares, and pens. These capture tools proved to be quite rustic.

It appears that wild turkeys have been an important source of food for many communities. For example, evidence of their presence has been found among the remains of Amerindian communities in at least seven archaeological sites located in the state of Connecticut. Other communities, living in the southern and western United States, also consumed this species.

On the other hand, and by belief, it was frowned upon in some Amerindian communities, to feed on certain wild animals, including the wild turkey. While the eating habits regarding wild turkeys varied by Amerindian women community, the use of the feathers of this species, was widespread.

In fact, the feathers of this bird were used to make blankets, quilts, dresses, coats and robes. Amerindians also employed various parts of the turkey’s anatomy to make tools for everyday use. Archaeological work in New York State uncovered awls and spoons made from turkey bones. The Amerindians also used feathers to make the empennas of their arrows and spurs to make points.

The Domestication Of Wild Turkeys

The domestication of wild turkeys began in Mexico, when wild turkey eggs were collected and taken to hatch in captivity. In 1520, the conquistadors brought with them to Spain some domestic turkeys from cattle raised by the Aztecs in southern Mexico.

Soon after, the domestic turkey found its way to other parts of Europe, the continent and the British Isles. In the early 17th century, some of the offspring of these birds were transported by the first European settlers to North America, thus constituting the origin of the domestic turkey we find today, today in the United States and Canada.

Since then, several generations of turkeys have been bred by man. Through a series of selective couplings, the turkey’s anatomy has changed significantly, adapting to growth and containment. For example, to meet popular demand, the domestic turkey is now thicker and more massive, and its breast is larger.

It is these changes that distinguish domestic turkeys from wild turkeys. In fact, the domestic turkey’s legs are shorter, more massive, more distant from each other, and less pink or reddish. The neck is also shorter and thicker, and the head appendages, such as the caruncles, dewlap and pendant, are more eminent.

It was only in the early 18th century that the turkey was the subject of notable breeding. Until 1900, its breeding in America was intended, however, for small-scale production, and for local sale. But during the 1920s, major commercial producers began from the region, raising turkeys in large quantities for shipment to other markets. Thus, at the dawn of World War II, domestic turkey farming became a major industry.

European Colonization and Decline of the Wild Turkey Population

Prior to the colonization of North America by Europeans, turkeys existed in 39 U.S. states and southern Ontario, as well as in Mexico. Writings mention that their population was abundant, but precise figures have not been provided. You have to understand that at that time, there was no inventory effect of animal populations, and the transmission of information that took place was quite primitive.

But in the 18th century, when Europeans arrived on the Atlantic coast was changing. In fact, at the time of colonization, the American population was growing rapidly. To support this growth, the wild turkey was used as an important source of food supply. Its hunting was practiced year-round and without catch limits, which caused a significant decline in turkey populations.

At the same time, logging to expand agricultural land and secure timber supplies greatly altered their habitat, contributing to their decline. By the dawn of the 20th century, the wild turkey had disappeared from Ontario, and 18 of the 39 American states in its original range, and the remaining population remained very precarious, the number of individuals totaling about 30,000 birds.

The Return of the Wild Turkey

By the 1930s, however, the table was set for the return of the wild turkey, following the regeneration of forest cover on former logging sites of abandoned forest and agricultural lands. In addition, conservation and management practices have slowly restored the environment to the past favorable to the development of this species.

In-kind capture and relocation of wild turkeys as the habitat allowed the wild turkey to multiply again, it was necessary to find a way to restore it within this environment. The first solution considered was to remove some wild individuals that had survived extinction, and relocate them to sites where wild turkeys were once found. These individuals could then reproduce, to form new populations capable of thriving and prospering to expand.

However, some problems related to the capture of individuals would complicate the process. The first trapping technique considered was the installation of a net protruding from a in which corn was spread as bait. When the turkeys under the trap, the poles holding the net fell out, trapping birds in this manner. This trap, although interesting, did not have the effects expected. In fact, this technique did not allow the simultaneous trapping of a large number of individuals.

This technique was greatly improved by the appearance, a few years later, of cannon-propelled nets, a technique originally designed for catching waterfowl. This method allows the use of a larger net, which deploys very quickly, thus reducing the number of turkeys that manage to escape. The speed of propulsion was later increased, thanks to the use of rockets such as projectiles. This innovation would mark the real beginning of the wild turkey’s revival.

Trapping takes place during the winter season, as it is at this time of year that wild turkeys group together in large flocks, which increases the chances of capturing more individuals at a time. In addition, it is at this same period that food is less abundant, and wild turkeys are then much more attracted to the bait. Normally, when releasing at a particular site, the minimum number of individuals should be 15 to 20, with a ratio of three females to one male.

Artificial Propagation

In order to increase the speed of reintroductions, several individuals and government agencies. U.S. companies adopted an idea that seemed promising: to produce large numbers of farmed wild turkeys and release them into the wild. These birds, obtained from hatching eggs from a wild turkey nest, are either hatched and brought to hatch under human control, or are derived from eggs of captive-bred wild turkeys. This artificial propagation approach was chosen as an alternative to the complex techniques of capturing wild birds.

But the result was quite the opposite: the use of farmed wild turkeys caused a delay of about twenty years in the population recovery plan. The situation is explained by the fact that the birds used could not survive in the wild. A combination of several factors explains this failure. One of the main reasons for the poor success of farmed birds is the impossibility for the chicks to learn from a wild turkey the basics of survival in the natural environment.

In fact, wild females do not know how to react properly in the face of predators and other dangers, in addition to their teaching food research, geography of their domain and the social behaviors to be adopted, such as vocalization and herding. As for captive-bred turkeys, without knowledge of life in the wild, they cannot raise their offspring in this way.

Another factor identified is the poor genetic quality of these individuals, due to several generations of inbreeding and captive breeding. The strong prevalence of diseases and deadly parasites in farm birds, due to containment conditions, is another factor to consider. In fact, as a result of research on the risks of disease spread from farm individuals to individuals researchers have concluded that the release of wild turkeys into the wild had to be abandoned, or even banned.

For example, in 2002, the North American wild turkey population was about 2.0 billion individuals. 5.6 million individuals in 49 American states (only Alaska does not count wild turkeys). Of these states, ten were not part of their pre-colonial range. This population allows more than 2.6 million hunters to make hunting their favorite sport.

In the United States, the economic impact of wild turkey hunting helps justify reintroduction programs, research, population and habitat management, and land acquisition.

Meleagris Gallopavo Silvestris

The bare head is covered with blue or purple skin. The male and female have large red wattles on the male, which hang below the throat and another that falls on the bill. The plumage is largely greenish-tan with gold and copper highlights. The feathers have black tips on the neck, breast and back. The male has a tuft of feathers on the chest called a wattle, which may reach the ground in older individuals. The legs are mauve pink, with short, powerful ears.


Although smaller and less massive than the domestic form, the wild turkey is a large bird. It lives in the mountain forests, woodlands, and swamps of the United States. Outside of the breeding season, males and females live apart, roosting as high in trees as possible. Present in abundance in 21 states, wild turkeys live from the east coast of the United States to southern Mexico. In the west, it is present from Washington State to New Mexico and Texas.


Wild turkeys have many enemies: coyotes, foxes, wolves, bobcats, raptors, owls, raccoons, skunks and minks. Faced with these many predators, the bird must be very careful. This is the reason why many turkeys roost in trees growing in the water because they are not very accessible from the ground.

They are very heavy, the turkey is struggling to take off and must run a few feet to get off. Young turkeys have even more difficulty and have to move from branches to branches to roost at the top of a tree. (See Article: Carabo Owl)


The wild turkey scrapes the forest floor, turns over dead leaves and pecks at plants. It feeds on berries, grasses, shoots, seeds, roots and tubers. It varies its vegetarian diet with some insects, such as locusts, or with some small crustaceans, mollusks and even amphibians.

The wild turkey swallows all its food and grinds it with its powerful gizzard. Like many animals, it swallows small pebbles to facilitate this operation, but its digestive system is surprisingly effective. We have seen the species swallow small pieces of metal and one individual was observed swallowing 24 whole nuts in four hours.


At the moment of love, the turkey parade laughs and proudly spreads its tail feathers. In its chest, the accumulation of augmentations forms an appendage called a pectoral sponge. The bird lives on this fat reserve and eats very little. After the breeding season, the male is thin again. Each male tries to seduce as many females as possible and fights with the other males for control of the harem.

The female makes her nest by scraping a light bowl on the ground. She decorates it with dried leaves and lays eight to fifteen eggs there. The chicks, or turkeys, she carries it down spotted with gray. The feathers are rapidly replacing down, but this plumage changes as early as August and the young acquire their adult plumage at the end of the year. Under the watchful eye of their mother, the turkey poults move with the females until they are three months old, and the larger males and smaller females form separate groups.(See Article: Types of Birds)

Meleagris Gallopavo Intermedia

The adult male is massive and robust, and its weight generally varies between 7.7 and 9.5 kilograms (17 to 21 pounds). However, some individuals may exceed this weight. To date, the heaviest wild turkey was harvested in 2001 in New Market, Iowa, and weighed 16.2 kilograms (35.8 pounds).

In the alert position, the size of a turkey can reach up to one meter (40 inches) in height. Its plumage is black in appearance and several of its feathers show a metallic sheen called iridescence, composed of various shades of red, green, copper, bronze and gold.

Its head and neck are relatively featherless and reddish skin protrusions, called caruncles, are present on this part of its body. The coloration of its head is blue and red, and it has a white crown. During the breeding season, the red color becomes brighter due to the increased number of blood flow birds in the caruncles.

It also has a pendant, i.e. a protuberance that looks like a soft finger and hangs from the forehead and forehead, beak. But when the turkey is on alert, the pendulum shrinks and stiffens at the back of the beak, taking on the appearance of a fleshy hump.

The adult female is much smaller than the male, weighing 3.6 to 5 kilograms (8 to 11 pounds), and measuring approximately 75 centimeters (30 inches) tall. Its plumage is duller than that of the male. Therefore, it usually appears more brownish or lighter in coloration.

Unlike males, its head and neck are blue-gray, and are partially covered with small dark feathers. The female may have caruncles, but they are much smaller than those of the male. Some females may also have a beard andThe tars are very long. Caudal feathers as well as the cover feathers range from yellowish, with a very dark brown finish. All this gives it a touch lighter than the two previous forms but darker than both others.

Its weight varies between 9 and 10 kilograms and from 4 to 6 kilograms for the hen. With female breast and head feathers. The flanks are light pinkish brown. Its very wet habitat remains very wet and open, only a few shrubs provide some shelter. (See Article: Short-eared Owl)


They can be seen up to 2000 meters where the forest predominates. This subspecies is rather gregarious and erratic between summer and winter periods. Turkeys can then gather in large companies of a hundred birds. Trips of more than 20 kilometers are measured at the end of winter to join crop broths.


The wild turkey is a polygamous species, meaning that a male can mate with several females. The social behavior of this species is characterized by the formation of groups of each species of both sexes. In autumn, individuals in the same brood separate by sex, juvenile males join adult males while juvenile females remain with the adult female. Male groups mix with female groups during the winter, forming larger groups.

During this period, males measure each other and establish their rank as dominance. At the time of breeding, in spring, it is usually the dominant male of a group that will capture most of the females of the surrounding groups, although juveniles may occasionally mate. Once mated, the female will move away from the group, sometimes several kilometers, to isolate herself and build her nest on the ground, in which she will lay an average of 10 to 12 eggs (1 egg every day or every 2 days).

Once all the eggs have been laid, they will be incubated for about 25 to 29 days, the female occasionally taking less than an hour off to feed. The nesting period begins during the first two weeks of April and more than 50% of the females will have begun nesting by early May. If the nest is destroyed during the first weeks of nesting, the female will be able to nest again. In fact, her physiology allows her to store enough sperm in her oviduct to fertilize additional eggs. (See Article: Accipitriadae)

Limiting Factors

Predation, adverse environmental conditions and hunting represent different causes of mortality affecting wild turkey populations. The importance of these mortality factors will vary according to the age of individuals, sex and age, and time of year.

Nesting success is strongly linked to the amount of precipitation during this period and the timing of spring snowmelt. To this end, the results of a study conducted show a significant relationship between precipitation accumulation and daily nest survival.

For example, the later the snow disappears in spring, the more rain precipitation is abundant in early summer, the lower the nesting success. The nesting period is quite long, i.e., between 25 to 29 days, even a slight difference in daily nest survival results in a difference a significant number of nests where eggs hatch.

Summer chick production is also linked to the abundance of rainfall during the nesting and brooding periods. In summer, with rainfall above sea level on average, the mortality rate of chicks is higher and results in lower numbers in the fall.

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