Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo
Range Map

Weighing as much as 30 pounds, the Wild Turkey is the heaviest member of the group I’m calling Gamebirds. It is the second heaviest bird in North America. Only the Trumpeter Swan has a greater body mass. These birds are competent and agile flyers, and roost high in trees at night. Having poor night vision, this practice helps them from becoming victims of nocturnal predators.

The native range of this bird is in areas of mature forests. They now occur in every one of the ‘Lower 48’ states, though reintroduction steps may have brought them to areas where they had not occurred before (e.g. San Diego County). Their native range is more predominant in the eastern USA. They do not migrate, but remain on territory year-round.

Science recognises six subspecies of Wild Turkey.

  • Eastern Wild Turkey (M. g. silvestris) has the largest range, spanning most of the eastern USA
  • Florida Wild Turkey (M. g. osceola) is smaller and darker than the Eastern bird and is found only in Florida
  • Rio Grande Wild Turkey (M. g. intermedia) found in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and artificially introduced to California and Oregon
  • Merriam’s Wild Turkey (M. g. merriami) found in the Rocky Mountains and the prairies of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, and the high mesas New Mexico, Arizona, southern Utah, and introduced to Oregon
  • Gould’s Wild Turkey (M. g. mexicana) found in northern Mexico and the southern Arizona and New Mexico
  • South Mexican Wild Turkey (M. g. gallopavo) is the nominate subspecies and is the ancestor of all domestic Turkeys

I’ve met Wild Turkeys in California, Idaho, Montana, and in Texas. There is no historical evidence that Wild Turkeys have ever lived in California, but someone thought it would be good for hunters to have them to kill, so in the mid-1950s, game agencies began importing them. Now they’re reported in every county in the state. Most of the public thinks this is a good thing, but environmentalists know these birds are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem here. Wild Turkeys eat about anything, and most small creatures, tubers, and other organisms never evolved a defense from the appetites of these large birds.

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