Turkeys: Meleagris gallopavo
Wild Turkeys are large birds with long legs, wide, rounded tails, and a small head on a long, slim neck.
An adult male wild turkey is more heavy-bodied and larger than the female. The skin on its featherless head is pinkish-red with red caruncles (wattles) on its throat and neck. It has a dark beard on its breast and dark brown or bronze iridescent feathers.
The female is slimmer and duller looking, with a blue-gray head and neck that lacks the prominent red caruncles of males. Females usually do not have a beard, but if one is present, it is thinner and smaller than the males.
Florida is home to two subspecies of wild turkey — the eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) and the Osceola or Florida wild turkey (M.g. osceola). The Florida wild turkey is best distinguished from the eastern subspecies, which it closely resembles, by the white barring on its wing feathers. On Florida wild turkeys, the white bars on the primary wing feathers are narrower than the black bars and are irregular or broken, which tends to give the wing an overall darker appearance compared to eastern wild turkeys.
The Florida wild turkey is found only in peninsular Florida. North of the peninsula and across the Florida panhandle, it interbreeds with the eastern subspecies.
The wild turkey is a woodlands bird and prefers open forests and forest edges and openings. They are considered a generalist species meaning they do not require specialized food or a particular vegetation community to survive. Consequently, they occur throughout Florida in any suitable habitat.
Turkeys are powerful fliers, especially for short distances. Speeds of up to 55 mph have been observed. To conserve energy, turkeys primarily walk. They spend most of their time on the ground, where they search for acorns, seeds, fruits, insects, leaves, and small vertebrates. They can easily cover several hundred acres in a day.
Wild turkeys are social animals and typically flock together in groups numbering just a few birds to as many as 20 or more. They are extremely wary and will run away or fly to a tree to escape danger. For safety from ground predators, turkeys roost at night in trees within thicker forest stands.
Courtship occurs during spring. The male, also known as a gobbler or tom, will strut, fan out its tail and gobble to attract hens. During these displays, the skin on the male turkey’s head turns bright blue and white, and the caruncles become swollen and turn bright red.
Wild turkey hens in Florida typically begin nesting in late March or early April. The female builds a shallow nest on the ground where she lays an average of 9 to11 eggs. It takes approximately 12-13 days to lay the full clutch of eggs and another 25-26 days of continuous incubation for them to hatch. Newly hatched turkeys, called poults, are highly mobile and can feed themselves soon after hatching. For roughly two weeks after hatching, broods will roost on the ground until the poults develop enough to be able to fly into low branches or small trees.
While turkeys can live in a wide variety of plant communities and climates, a key to their well-being is vegetation structure. For the most part, turkeys prefer low, moderately open herbaceous vegetation (less than three feet in height) that they can see through or over, and that is in close proximity to forested cover. Such open conditions help them see and avoid predators while providing sufficient food.
If you have any questions regarding turkey management, contact the FWC regional office nearest you. You may also e-mail FWC or call at 850-488-4676.