Talking Turkey: 4 Interesting Facts About Wild Turkeys

Thursday, October 7, 2021

 Thanksgiving is almost here which means there is one thing on most peoples' mind - turkey. Before we sit down to enjoy our Thanksgiving Day meals, let's take a few moments to appreciate the Wild Turkey's many exquisite traits that don't involve a recipe or an oven. 

Wild Turkey
1. Wild Turkeys are not picky eaters. 
Wild Turkeys spend most of their time foraging on the ground or in shrubs and trees (yes, in trees - see interesting fact #4) for fruits like crab apples or wild grapes, and nuts such as acorns, walnuts, and beechnuts. You may also see them under your feeders from time to time cleaning up the food that's been tossed to the ground, especially if that food is cracked corn. But turkeys aren't vegetarian. Their diet is omnivorous and opportunistic by nature, and consists of a wide variety of food items that are both plant-based and not-so-plant-based including roots & bulbs, grasses, foliage, snails, grasshoppers, worms, and even small snakes. Wild turkeys also consume some sand and small pieces of gravel or rock to aid in digestion. 

Wild Turkey scat - Photo by Justin Hoffman

2. You can tell a turkey's age and gender by the size and shape of their poop. 
You don't need to be an ornithologist to tell turkey droppings from other bird species' droppings, and you may even be able to tell a little bit about the bird who left them behind just by their size and shape. In birds, droppings are passed through the cloaca which is an orifice used for both elimination and reproduction. In female turkeys, the cloaca is stretchy to allow eggs to pass through easily. So when a female turkey expels droppings, it has room to create a coil shape. In male turkeys, however, the cloaca is tighter as there is no need for room to pass eggs, so the droppings produced are slender and J-shaped. In addition to telling the gender, you may also be able to tell if the droppings were produced by a young bird or older bird based on their diameter. The larger in diameter the droppings are, the older the turkey. 

Wild Turkey reintroduction release site in south western Ontario

3. At one time, Wild Turkeys were locally extinct (extirpated) in Ontario. 
You read that right - turkeys were virtually extinct in Ontario in the not so distant past. Wild Turkeys were wiped from the landscape due to a combination of over harvesting from unregulated hunting, and habitat loss that came as a result of rapid agricultural development turning forest and grasslands into farms. This status remained consistent for nearly a century, until a reintroduction strategy was implemented in 1984. Between 1984 and 1987, over 4000 Wild Turkeys were released at 275 sites scattered across Ontario and by 2007 the population was estimated at approximately 70 000 individuals. As of today, Ontario's Wild Turkey population is stable at well over 100 000 birds. 

Wild Turkeys perched in a tree

4. Despite their heavy bodies, Wild Turkeys can actually fly. 
Don't let that plump body fool you, turkeys are fully capable of getting lift off and flying short distances. Though they do spend most of their time on the ground while foraging, turkeys roost in trees at night so having the ability to fly is crucial to their survival. If you ever witness a turkey flying you'll certainly notice that they are not the most graceful or agile of fliers, but some have been recorded to fly at speeds of 55 miles per hour in short bursts. 

Wishing you all a joyful and safe Thanksgiving holiday filled with friends and family, and maybe Tofurky instead of the real thing. 😉

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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