About This Species
Barnyard turkeys are not the brightest birds in the flock, but don't cross a wild turkey. These cunning birds get around mostly by walking or running, and can move as fast as 25 miles per hour (Olympic champion Usain Bolt's top speed is 28 miles per hour). They are strong fliers, too, though only for short distances. They typically roost overnight in trees, preferring oak forests. They don't migrate, although they wander some between seasons, shifting further north when the temperature rises. Turkeys have a relatively short lifespan (roughly two to three years) and chicks have a high mortality rate, leaving the nest just 24 hours after hatching.
Wild turkeys are named after the country, Turkey. Early settlers in the United States came across the birds and were reminded of a bird back home that they called "the Turkey bird" (it was likely an African guinea fowl). The name stuck. Naming a group of turkeys, however, yielded many options, including a crop, dole, gang, posse and raffle.
Turkeys had one notable fan in Benjamin Franklin, who wanted it named the national bird over the Bald Eagle, which he described as a "rank coward." The turkey, Franklin said, "He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."
There are roughly 7 million wild turkeys clucking and scratching around North America, but that didn't used to be the case. Thanks to overhunting and habitat loss, the birds were on the brink of extinction in the 1930s.
Turkeys bounced back thanks to conservation efforts that involved protecting existing habitats and trapping wild turkeys and reintroducing them into suitable habitats. They are now considered a major conservation success story.
In Ontario, Canada, the birds have been reported to be expanding their range, showing up farther north than in the past.
Though the turkey's range currently covers most of the United States, climate change is projected to shift that range to become distinctly more Canadian. According to Audubon's climate models, wild turkeys will lose 87 percent of their current winter range by 2080. They may be able to expand their range in the summer, which could help, but that will be dependent on the birds finding the oak forest habitat they prefer.
Because turkey chicks have a high mortality rate, early warming spells can pose an acute threat. When temperatures rise earlier in the spring, hens may lay their eggs too soon. As the baby birds hatch, they may be exposed to life-threatening cold temperatures or spring flooding.