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Watchable Wildlife: Wild Turkey

Did You Know?

A male or tom turkey at the edge of the woods
Wild turkey - Meleagris gallopavo
Photo: Richard Thomas
  • Turkeys can fly 40-50 mph over short distances, and they can even swim, but usually run or walk to escape danger.
  • Turkeys have keen hearing and superb eyesight, enabling them to evade predators.
  • In the 1970s New York was home to about 30,000 wild turkeys. Today there are about 300,000 state-wide.
  • Around 1948, wild turkeys from a small remnant population in northern PA crossed the border into western NY. These were the first birds in the State after an absence of 100 years.

Watchable wildlife binoculars iconWhat to watch for:

Size:

Mature males, or "toms," are about 2.5 feet tall and weigh up to 25 lbs.
Females, or "hens," are smaller and weigh 9 to 12 lbs.

Coloration:

Males have dark black-brown bodies and red, blue and white skin on their heads
during the spring breeding season. They have long beards of hair-like feathers on their
chests and spurs up to an inch long on their legs that they use for fighting other toms.

Hens have rusty-brown bodies and blue-gray heads. A few females (less than 10%) have beards.

Where to watch:

Turkeys are found throughout New York. Turkeys prefer mixed areas of forest and farmland. They may form large flocks in the winter, and congregate in farm fields, feeding on waste grain. When there is snow cover, look for their distinctive and large tracks...follow them to see where the turkeys eat and rest. If you find their favored foods, acorns and beech nuts, you are likely to find turkeys.

What to listen for:

The male call is a gobble, primarily made in the spring. The hen makes a yelping, clucking, or purring sound. They are especially vocal at dawn and dusk near their roosting sites. Listen carefully: you may hear them flying to or from their roosting trees (they make a loud noise when they fly).

When to watch:

At night, turkeys roost in trees. In the spring, you may be able to see a courtship display near the edges of woodlands, where toms gobble, strut, drag their wings and spread their tail feathers to attract hens. . Later in the summer (August), you can see hens with poults (sparrow-sized to pheasant-sized young turkeys) as they look for insects and other foods in hayfields and other open areas.

The best places to see wild turkeys:

Click on the links below to get more information about each site.

North-South Lake

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve and Environmental Education Center

Roger Tory Peterson Institute

Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center

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