Skip Navigation
MI.gov
DNR - Department of Natural Resources | DNR Department of Natural Resources | DNR
Department of Natural Resources | DNR
Email this Page
Share this Link on Facebook
Tweet this page on Twitter!

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)


Life History

The wild turkey is one of the largest birds in North America. An adult male can grow up to 4 feet long from his beak to his tail. Wild turkeys live in open fields and woods and nest on the ground. Wild turkeys prefer to eat insects, grasses, nuts, and berries.

The "beard" that grows from the center of a wild turkey's breast is actually a group of modified feathers that look like hair. Beards are most commonly found on adult male turkeys (called gobblers), although females (called hens) will grow them occasionally.

In spite of its large size and rather awkward appearance, the wild turkey is a powerful flier, reaching speeds of up to 55 mph over short distances. Turkeys will most often fly hard and fast up through the treetops, then set their wings and glide back to the ground.

Benjamin Franklin wanted wild turkeys to be our national symbol instead of the bald eagle. He felt that the stately, majestic qualities of the wild turkey would make it a fine symbol for the new country.

Most people are familiar with the term "flock of pigeons" and even "gaggle of geese," but did you know that a group of turkeys is called a "rafter"? And baby turkeys are called poults.

Michigan History

Wild turkeys are found in many areas across the U.S. and part of Ontario, including most counties in Michigan. However, this is following a major re-introduction effort that was first successful after four failed attempts. They had disappeared from Michigan by 1900, probably due to loss of habitat, and unregulated hunting.

As year-round residents of Michigan, wild turkeys move from grasslands and forest clearings that have lots of high protein insects for their young in the summer to more covered areas such as stands of mast producing trees in the winter. Wild turkeys are a game species in Michigan and their numbers have increased enough to support two hunting seasons each year (spring and fall).

Links to Other Sources of Information