Species Spotlight: Eastern wild turkey

Eastern wild turkeys are the most populous turkey in the United States.

Eastern wild turkeys are found throughout the eastern half of the United States, and even in portions of the Plains States. Despite its georgraphically-limited name, it is even found in western Washington State.

It is the least colorful species of wild turkeys, but in the proper light, they do display brilliant variations of color.

They appear blackish overall, especially when viewed from a distance in low light. But when viewed up close, iridescent copper, red, green, gold and bronze colors are evident.

Eastern wild turkey’s heads are bluish gray to pale blue and red, with males taking on bright shades of red, white and blue when excited. Males also have a snood, an appendage at the base of their bills, that dangles when the bird is showing out to attract females or challenge other males.

Most males (and rarely females), have a beard hanging from their chests. The beards generally grow longer each year, and vary in growth from 3 to 5 inches per year. Jakes, which are young males, have short beards, with mature males having beards ranging from 8 inches to longer than 10 inches. Some grow multiple beards.

Males also sport sharp spurs on their feet. These spurs grow sharper, longer and more curved each year, and can do plenty of damage to predators, as well as to other turkeys when challenged.

One of the largest gamebirds in southeastern U.S.

Among the largest of all North American gamebirds, they grow in size up to and sometimes exceeding 24 pounds. They have a group of tail feathers that they fan out in a brilliant display to express their dominance.

Eastern wild turkeys have excellent eyesight, and are challenging to hunt due to that, as well as their wariness to anything that looks or seems out of the ordinary to them.

These birds generally sleep in trees at night, except for hens that have biddies that are too young to fly. Through a series of calls, they alert other nearby turkeys to their presence, and usually announce their departure from the tree each morning.

Eastern wild turkeys eat a wide variety of foods, depending on what’s available in their region. Plants, nuts, seeds and berries make up the vast majority of a mature turkey’s diet, with young turkeys eating mostly insects.

Mature males are known as toms, boss-toms, gobblers, longbeards, thunder-chickens and hammerheads.

The post “Species spotlight: Eastern wild turkey” first appeared on MS-Sportsman.com.

About Brian Cope 225 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.