Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
By: Rhiannon Thunell
The Wild Turkey is one of North America’s most iconic and well-known birds and just about everyone in the United States knows what a turkey is. While turkeys are not rare in Indiana, I still get excited every time I see them. I love how big they are and how beautiful and iridescent their feathers are, and especially how ridiculous they can sometimes look. Only the males, known as toms, make the well-known gobbling sound. The hens produce only a short call, which can be easily imitated by humans to get a gobble and display from any toms present. When I run into toms in the wild, I imitate the call of a hen to make the toms gobble and display. They will often move incredibly close searching for the non-existent hen, not even caring that there is a human present. Hunters use a similar method to lure turkeys close, and it is easy to understand why.
Two interesting physical characteristics about turkeys are the beard and the snood. Both are more pronounced in the tom, but the hen does have a small version of each. The beard is a patch of hair-like structures that grow from the chest area. They are not shed each year but continue to grow longer as the bird ages. The snood is the fleshy appendage attached to the head above the beak. In toms, the snood is normally small and colorless, but during a display, blood is pumped into the snood and it elongates and turns shades of blue and red, and the entire face of the tom undergoes a similar transformation.
There are only two extant species of turkeys in the world, North America’s Wild Turkey and Central America’s Ocellated Turkey. North America’s Wild Turkey has been domesticated and there are many color varieties. Heritage turkey breeds are especially beautiful, coming in colors like “blue slate” and “bourbon red.” These color varieties are collected by poultry enthusiasts and taken to poultry shows all over the country. Wild turkeys do not build a nest but simply make a depression in the ground in which they lay their eggs, which are cream colored with reddish spots. At night they roost in trees to avoid predators. Altogether, they are a pretty special bird to have around.