More than you could possibly want to know about turkeys

The rise and fall of the wild turkey

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey
Courtesy amkhosla

Native to North America, wild turkeys once ranged throughout what is now the eastern US and most of Mexico. The Aztecs domesticated the bird centuries ago.

European explorers brought wild turkeys home from Mexico in 1523. Soon, farms throughout Europe began raising the fowl. English colonists brought the domesticated turkey back with them when they began settling on the Atlantic coast.

As settlers turned forests into farmlands, wild turkey populations declined. By 1900, only about 30,000 wild turkeys remained in the US. In the 1940s, conservation agencies tried releasing farm-raised turkeys into the wild. But the domesticated birds had lost their survival instincts, and fell victim to weather, starvation and predators. The agencies then began trapping wild turkeys and relocating them to areas with suitable habitat.

This proved wildly successful. Today some six-and-a-half million wild turkeys live in the US alone. They thrive in 49 states (only Alaska is left out), including areas – such as Minnesota – which probably never had native wild turkeys before.

The South Mexican wild turkey, the ancestor to the domestic breed, lives today only in southwestern Mexico.

Turkeys in the straw, and elsewhere

Wild turkeys live in forests and wooded areas throughout North America. They roost in very large trees, out of the wind, and often near forest clearings for easy landing and takeoff.

During the day, they move to open fields and meadows for feeding and mating. Open areas give them a clear view of any approaching predators, and woods offer them a safe place to hide. Turkeys will run from approaching danger at speeds up to 18 miles per hour!

“With God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly”

Domestic TurkeyDomestic Turkey

Generally, domestic turkeys fly very poorly. Centuries of breeding have given them huge bodies and weak wings. But wild turkeys are quite agile in the air. They roost in trees overnight, flapping up into the branches at dusk. When threatened by a predator, they can wing away at up to 55 mph. Most flights are short – about a half mile or less.