Eastern Wild Turkeys

IMG_4001About two dozen Eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) strolled through the yard today scouring the ground for tidbits. Omnivorous, they especially favor acorns, other tree nuts, seeds, berries and insects.

Although we’ve had freezing rain all day and the lighting was not optimal, I attempted a few photos anyway. It’s always a thrill to have a large flock pass through. Lacking a male beard (a specialized tuft of feathers arising from the chest), my guess is that these are a few hens with last summer’s brood. Each hen lays an average of a dozen eggs with hatchling mortality after a month being 53-73%. After the poults hatch out, the hens often flock together for safety.

IMG_3996Not particularly attractive birds at the unfeathered head (they remind me of vultures), their feathers are a lovely iridescent over brown and black, with wings that are striped brown and white.

Source: ARKive.org

Source: ARKive.org

Males can reach thirty pounds and a height of four feet – that is one big bird! Despite their size, they are agile and quick to fly at the least sign of danger. Their eyesight is very keen and alert to any movement, they will even notice someone inside a house.


According to the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife:

At the time of Colonial settlement, wild turkeys were found nearly throughout Massachusetts. They were probably absent from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and perhaps the higher mountain areas in the northwest part of the state. As settlement progressed and land was cleared for buildings and agriculture, turkey populations diminished. By 1800, turkeys were quite rare in Massachusetts, and by 1851 they had disappeared.

Between 1911 and 1967 at least 9 attempts in 5 counties were undertaken to restore turkeys to Massachusetts. Eight failed (probably because of the use of pen-raised stock; and one established a very marginal population which persisted only with supplemental feeding.

In 1972-73, with the cooperation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,  MassWildlife personnel live-trapped 37 turkeys in southwestern New York and released them in Beartown State Forest in southern Berkshire County. By 1976, these birds had successfully established themselves and by 1978 this restoration effort was declared a success.

Beginning in 1978, MassWildlife began live-trapping turkeys from the Berkshires and releasing them in other suitable habitat statewide. Between 1979 and 1996, a total of 26 releases involving 561 turkeys (192 males, 369 females) were made in 10 counties.

The turkeys in my photos are most likely descendants from a flock of 14 (6 males, 8 females) that were released 7 miles away in 1981-82, the third capture and release the program performed.

Nationwide, the population of wild turkeys in the 1952 was 320,000. Thanks to restoration efforts, they now number over six million.


About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
This entry was posted in Country Living, Field Notes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Eastern Wild Turkeys

  1. Love this! Of course, you correctly identified the animal and provided the proper name 🙂

  2. mk says:

    How exciting to see a flock in your own yard! And even more exciting knowing your turkeys are truly wild one restored from loss of habitat.

  3. Fabulous story, and great photos, Eliza 😉 I’m so glad so much effort has gone into re-establishing the wild flocks. What a privilege to have them living on your land now.. May I assume that Wren enjoyed the visit, too? Stay warm- looks so cold there- WG

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thanks, I loved the visit. Wren luckily didn’t see them (I distracted her by going upstairs) or she would have gone ballistic. A squirrel gets her excited, I can’t imagine her reaction to this flock!
      The freezing rain has the place looking like your post of last week – icicles on everything!

  4. We have wild turkeys in and around our property. There was a rafter of 18 in the fall of 2014 that stayed around for weeks. You had quite a group visit and your MA history was very interesting.

  5. livblumer says:

    Wonderful to have so much life in your yard in the winter. It was an otherwise challenging day weatherwise.

  6. They are beautiful, and I don’t mind their faces and heads. Lovely post.

  7. I never realized there was so much to know about turkeys! A very interesting history lesson. I’ve only seen wild turkeys from afar on two or three occasions, so I envy you being able to watch them saunter through your yard. Do you know the reasons behind the high mortality rate? Is it mostly due to predators?

    • Eliza Waters says:

      There are predators like raccoons, coyotes and foxes, of course, but poults fare better than the smaller birds whose chances of reaching adulthood are 1 in 10. Birds really need our protection!

  8. Robbie says:

    Interesting:-) + thank you for all the background for these lovely creatures. I enjoy watching them wander as a group. You have a LARGE group there in your woods!
    “The turkeys in my photos are most likely descendants from a flock of 14 (6 males, 8 females) that were released 7 miles away in 1981-82,” fascinating!!!:-)

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Because the other releases were much farther away, it was pretty easy to guess the source of this flock. They are interesting to watch, the hens are very vigilant and they all communicate pretty much constantly. Thanks for your comment, Robbie! hugs

  9. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    Great post Eliza. Lovely to see how we can sometimes do something so positive like reintroduce species that have gone. Here in Ireland there are a couple of programmes – one to reintroduce sea eagles and the other to reintroduce golden eagles (http://www.goldeneagletrust.org/).

  10. I had no idea that turkeys had vanished from Massachusetts at one time. How wonderful that there are people who care enough, even about a rather unglamorous bird, to work towards its conservation. I have them here too, Eliza, but never a flock the size of yours. Maybe three or four is all I’ve ever seen here. We do have coyotes and foxes here so maybe they keep the flock down?

    • Eliza Waters says:

      They are most vulnerable as poults – once they can fly, they roost at night in trees. It may be food and other habitat restraints that are keeping your numbers low.

  11. Val Boyko says:

    Fascinating Eliza! I’ve never seen so many together 🙂

  12. Treah says:

    A couple of weeks ago, we had a flock of 15 turkeys come into our yard every morning for several days. I noticed that, besides picking up fallen seed under our feeders, they were keen on getting any exposed green grass they could find. They must be starved for greens this time of year. They also picked up grit from the driveway, another very necessary requirement for their digestive health They are definitely fascinating to watch!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      That they are. In my research, it was noted that they have a really hard time in the winter, especially with deep snow. With this crusty ice, it must be even tougher. Winter is tough on everybody!

  13. I live in Western NY and I see the wild turkey’s quite often. I love to watch my wildlife!

  14. dorannrule says:

    I enjoyed your post Eliza and the information about restoring turkeys to MA. That’s quite a big flock you have. We get up to about 15 in a group here and I always love it when they come through. They always make me smile…. from the way they walk and look and court, right down to their gobble gobble communications. 🙂

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Same here, Dor. Turkeys are a bundle of contrasts, ugly/beautiful, ungainly/agile, small brained/yet sharp. They are comical and fascinating at the same time.

  15. ladyfi says:

    Oh, what a charming sight.

  16. Love your pictures! We enjoy seeing turkeys in our backyard in the winter. They are so much fun to watch!

  17. WONDERFUL and informative post. We have turkeys stroll through our neighborhood from time to time too. I especially love watching the males during breeding season. They remind me of guys at the gym … puffing up there chests and strutting their stuff!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      LOL – they are like guys at the gym. “Hey, baby, check me out – pick me, pick me!” And all the hens seem so bored with all their fluffing and strutting about. Thanks for the laugh & stopping by Denise.

Comments are closed.