8 Wild Facts About Wild Turkeys

November 17, 2023

Posted by Lake Erie Nature and Science Center

Turkey Photo

The Wild Turkey is one of the most recognizable birds in North America and can be found in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. While you are likely familiar with the Wild Turkey (especially this week!), you may be surprised to learn these wild facts:

1. Turkeys are fast.

Turkeys can run at speeds up to 25 miles per hour and are capable of flying as fast as 55 miles per hour (in short bursts). When they need to, turkeys can swim by tucking their wings, spreading their tails, and kicking.

2. They roost in trees at night.

Turkeys spend most of the day on the ground. Despite their large size, they will roost in trees overnight to protect themselves from predators.

3. Turkeys are large.

Turkeys are the largest gamebird in North America. The average male turkey, or “tom,” can be 4 feet tall and weigh up to 25 pounds, while the average female or “hen” is 3 feet tall and around half the weight of a male turkey.

4. Wild turkeys are omnivorous.

They eat a varied diet of mostly grass and grains but also insects, nuts, berries, and small reptiles. Wild turkeys are opportunistic foragers.

5. Their distinctive features help to express emotion.

A turkey’s wattle (the skin hanging below its chin) and snood (the skin that hangs off its bill) can change in color and size based on mood and activities. Toms have spurs on the back of their legs and will use them to spar with other males. While both males and females have wattles, snoods and spurs, they are smaller and less distinctive on the female.

6. An adult turkey has 5,000 – 6,000 feathers.

In effort to attract a mate, toms will strut by displaying their shiny feathers and colorful heads. Some hens strut, too!

7. Turkeys were once threatened with extinction.

In the early 20th century, there were about 200,000 wild turkeys in the United States. Thanks to conservation efforts, there are approximately 6.5 million wild turkeys in the United States today, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.

8. Turkeys have a better known fossil record than most birds.

Turkey fossils have been discovered across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago!

Interested in learning more about native wildlife? Lake Erie Nature & Science Center is a nonprofit organization that offers free general admission to exhibits, nature-based programming for all ages, and wildlife rehabilitation services at no charge to the public. The Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Plan your visit at www.lensc.org/program-calendar. 28728 Wolf Road, Bay Village, OH 44140.

Sources: Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cornell University, and National Audubon Society.

Topic: Wildlife