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Let's Gobble About Wild Turkeys

You may be familiar with the turkey on your Thanksgiving table every year or the popular bourbon from Kentucky. But how much do you know about Eastern Wild Turkeys?

Eastern Wild Turkey | Photo Courtesy of
Eastern Wild Turkey | Photo Courtesy of

The Eastern Wild Turkey is one of six recognized subspecies of turkey in the United States, but the only subspecies in Illinois. Illinois has it's own, exclusive breed of turkey?! Pretty neat. Male Wild Turkeys are often referred to as "gobblers" or "toms" while female Wild Turkeys are known as "hens". A young turkey is called a "poult".

Wild Turkeys are recognized by their darks feathers with shades of bronze, red, purple, blue, and green. Hens appear slightly lighter because of their brown-tipped breast feathers, compared to a tom's black-tipped breast feathers. Both toms and hens have a wattle (fold of skin below the beak), caruncles (wart-like growths on the neck), and a snood (fleshy attachment above the beak). However, during mating seasons, these parts on a tom will turn red, white or blue. Also, toms have leg spurs and beards (specialized hairs).

Wild turkeys are generally social animals and congregate in flocks in the winter. During particularly severe winter weather, flock size increases. This is due to different, smaller flocks merging in areas with reliable food sources.

Wild Turkeys eat a variety of things, including acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, wild grapes, crabapple, black cherry, berries, grasses, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. A poult's diet mainly consists of insects.

Breeding season begins in early April for Wild Turkeys. A hen will lay 10 to 12 eggs throughout April and May and will incubate them for 28 days. Once the poults have hatched, they are ready to leave the nest within 24 hours. Young poults are sensitive to cold, rainy weather and predators. A survival rate of 50% is common in the first 6 weeks of life.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Due to the increase in Wild Turkey population and the increases in human development in their habitat, there is potential for conflict. Wild Turkeys usually aren't confrontational, however, toms can get aggressive and territorial during mating season. What should you do if you run into a tom that is being a real jerk-ey turkey? An easy solution is to make loud noises and wave your arms to scare him off. If that does not work, try spraying him with a garden hose. This does no harm, but will usually scare him away.

In Illinois, it is illegal to kill Wild Turkeys or to destroy nests and eggs. If you are unable to scare away a nuisance turkey, contact a local Illinois Department of Natural Resources District Wildlife Biologist for further assistant.

Eastern Wild Turkey | Photo Courtesy of
Eastern Wild Turkey | Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve

Fast Facts

Wild Turkeys can run as fast as 12 miles per hour and can fly 50 to 55 miles per hour (for short lengths).

Wild Turkeys roost in trees at night to protect themselves from predators.

If they survive their first 6 weeks of life, Wild Turkeys can live up to 10 years old. Although most do not survive that long.

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