My Life as a Turkey | Wild Turkey Fun Facts | Nature |

Genre: Meleagris

Species: Meleagris gallopavo

Subspecies: There are five subspecies of North American wild turkey: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Gould’s

Size and Weight: The wild turkey is the heaviest member of the order Galliformes

The male typically weighs 11-24 pounds and is 39-49 inches long

The female, significantly smaller than the male, weighs 5 to 12 kilograms and is only 30 to 37 centimeters long

Despite their size, wild turkeys can run at speeds of up to 25 mph and fly up to 55 mph

Physical Characteristics and Plumage: The male has a featherless red head and throat and a body covered in iridescent red, bronze and gold feathers

When trying to attract a mate, the male will display himself, fanning his body feathers, fanning his tail feathers and trailing his wings while strutting

The male usually has a “beard”, a patch of feathers that grows from the center of his chest

Each wild turkey has approximately 5000 to 6000 feathers

Other distinctive physical characteristics:

Spurs: Bony spikes on the back of each turkey’s lower legs

Barca: A flap of skin under the turkey’s chin

Caruncles: Fleshy bumps that grow on the turkey’s head and throat

Snood: fleshy flap hanging from the beak

Although both the male and female have spurs, barbels, caruncles and snoods, they are much smaller and less distinctive on the female

Diet: The wild turkey is omnivorous

Geography: The wild turkey is native to North America, and is found primarily in the central and eastern United States

Reproductive and social structure: The male is polygamous, mating with several female hens during each mating season

To attract a female, the male displays: puffing up his feathers, spreading his tail and dragging his wings

After breeding, the female typically lays approximately 12 eggs over a two-week period, although larger clutches of eggs have been observed

The female will incubate her eggs for about 28 days

Risks: The wild turkey is currently listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN

By the early 20th century wild turkey populations were declining due to hunting and habitat loss

But starting in the 1940s, efforts to save the species helped populations recover considerably

At the beginning of the 1900s the population was estimated at 30,000 inhabitants

The current number of wild turkeys is estimated at 7 million

European explorers brought wild turkeys to Europe from Mexico in the early 1500s

They were domesticated there and then brought back to North America by English colonists

These domesticated turkeys have white-tipped tails while wild turkeys have dark-tipped tails

When Europeans first encountered the wild turkey, it was misclassified as a type of guinea fowl, also known as a turkey hen

The turkey is one of only two domesticated birds native to the New World

The wild turkey is an agile flyer, unlike its domesticated counterpart

When excited, the coloration of the male’s head and neck changes, alternating between shades of red, white and blue

The wild turkey can make at least 30 different calls

In the spring, the adult male makes a call known as a gobble to attract females

The male turkey is usually called a tom and the female is called a hen

Benjamin Franklin argued that the wild turkey, rather than the bald eagle, would be a much better choice for the national bird

It is a bird of bad moral character

Perhaps you have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the work of the osprey; and when that diligent bird has at last caught a fish, and carries it to its nest for the support of its mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues it and takes it away

…In truth, the turkey is, by comparison, a much more respectable bird, and, moreover, a genuine native of America

Besides, though a little vain and foolish, he is a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier in the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm-yard in a red coat

-Benjamin Franklin, 1784

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