The wild turkey, the largest game bird in North America, is related to pheasants, quail, and grouse. It is found throughout the United States, except for Alaska, and in parts of Canada and Mexico. There are five recognized sub-species, which vary slightly, in color and size. The male wild turkey called the tom or the gobbler is a large robust bird weighing up o 30 pounds and standing as high as four feet tall. His body color is brownish-black with a metallic, iridescent sheen.
The head and neck, nearly bald, vary from white to blue to red. Bright red, fleshy bumps, called caruncles, droop from the front and sides of the neck, and a fleshy flap of skin, called a dewlap, is attached to the throat and neck. A fingerlike protrusion called a snood hangs over the front of the beak. When the tom is alert, the snood constricts and projects vertically as a fleshy bump at the top rear of the beak.
A clump of long, coarse hairs, called a beard, protrudes from the front of the tom’s breast and may grow as long as 12 inches on older birds. Each leg has a spur on it; these spurs are small and rounded on young birds; long, pointed, and usually very sharp on older birds. The male is called a gobbler for a good reason: his rattling, the deep-toned call is one of the most recognizable sounds in all of nature.
At mating time, toms gobble with full-volume gusto, attempting to attract hens for breeding. Adult males display for hens by fanning their tail feathers, puffing up their body feathers, and dragging their wings as they strut. Their heads and neck turn bright red during breeding season or when the tom is otherwise excited. Adult females, or hens, are considerably smaller than toms, rarely weighing more than 10 to 12 pounds.
Their overall body color is duller than the male’s and lacks his metallic, iridescent sheen. The hen’s head and neck are usually blue-grey in color and sparsely covered with small, dark feathers. Caruncles are sometimes present, but smaller than those on toms. Some hens grow small beards and spurs. Although they don’t gobble, hens make a variety of cluck, purr, putt, and yelp sounds. Dominant hens may assert themselves with a display resembling that of a male, though they do not strut.
Juvenile birds mature quickly. By their fifth month, the juvenile male(jake) and juvenile female(jenny) closely resemble adult birds. However, juveniles have dark legs, which turn pink as the bird age. Jakes make feeble gobbles, higher pitch than the calls of mature toms. Their beards are shorter in length and usually have amber-colored tips. With its powerful legs, the wild turkey is an exceptional runner and has been clocked at speeds up to 12 mph.
Although strong short-distance fliers, turkeys usually run when threatened. When necessary for escape, turkeys launch themselves with a standing leap or a running start to accelerate to 35 mph in a matter of seconds.
They cannot remain in the air for more than a few hundred yards but can glide for half a mile or more when coasting down from a ridge. Regardless of region, wild turkeys require three elements if they are to survive, water, trees, and open grassy areas, Turkeys may be found in areas where one or more of these elements is in short supply, but the population is unlikely to flourish. Throughout most of their range