They are surprisingly agile fliers and amazingly cunning, unlike their domestic counterparts. They are capable of achieving speeds of 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) in flight but do not fly much higher than tree level. Only the males "gobble"; the females yelp. The males also emit a very low-pitched drumming sound. The gobble can be heard up to a mile away.
Open areas like fields are preferred for feeding, mating, and habitat. The breeding habitat is wooded areas, usually with clearings, across most of the United States and parts of southern Canada, where they are permanent residents. The forested areas keep them hidden from predators. They nest on the ground at the bottom of a tree, shrub or in tall grass. At night, these birds roost in trees.
Wild Turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climb shrubs and small trees to feed. They prefer eating hard mast such as acorns and nuts of various trees, including hazel, chestnut, and hickory, various seeds, berries, roots and insects. They also eat small vertebrates like snakes, frogs or salamanders. Poults eat insects, berries, and seeds. The turkey's can obtain large populations in small areas because of their ability to forgage for different types of food. Early morning and late afternoon are the desired times for eating.
Males are polygamous, so they form territories that may have as many as 5 hens within. Male wild turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails, inflating the wattles on their neck and drooping wings. They also use their gobble noises and make scrapes on the ground for territorial purposes. Courtship begins during the months of February and April, which is when turkeys are still flocked together in winter areas.
When mating is finished, females search for nest sites. Nests are shallow dirt depressions engulfed with woody vegetation. Hens lay a clutch of 10-12 eggs, usually one per day. The eggs are incubated for at least 28 days. The poults leave the nest in about 12-24 hours so they are precocial and nidifugous.
The range and numbers of the Wild Turkey had decreased at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and loss of habitat. Game managers estimate that the entire populations of Wild Turkeys in the U.S.A was as low as 30,000 in the early 1900's. Game officials made efforts to protect and encourage the breeding of the surviving wild population. As the Wild Turkey's numbers rebounded in the 1980s and 1990s, hunting was legalized in 49 US states, excluding Alaska. Current estimates place the entire Wild Turkey population at 7 million individuals. In recent years, trap and transfer projects have reintroduced Wild Turkeys to several provinces of Canada as well.
Wisconsin's Wild Turkey
The wild turkey is truly one of Wisconsin's wildlife management success stories. A key role in the success of the wild turkey management program can be attributed to hunters through their purchase of the Wild Turkey Stamp which provides vital financial support in providing for future opportunities for turkey management and hunting in Wisconsin. Since wild turkeys were first successfully reintroduced into Wisconsin in 1976, population levels continue to increase and expand statewide. Successful restoration of the wild turkey resulted from tremendous hunter and landowner support, good survival, and high quality habitat. Turkey stamp funds have been providing opportunities for turkey management in Wisconsin since 1995. Sale of the turkey stamp currently brings in over $500,000 annually for developing, managing, conserving, restoring, and maintaining the wild turkey population within the state.