What’s Unique About Each Variety of Wild Turkeys?

As mentioned previously, there are 5 subspecies of the North American wild turkey. Generally, they have some distinctive differences that a hunter should be aware of before setting out to do battle with the “big birds.”

The Eastern Turkey

Eastern turkey – has the largest numbers. They are available along the eastern coast from Maine to northern Florida, and as far west as Oklahoma.

They roost in pine or hemlock trees, along the top of a ridge. When it gets fairly warm, they move on to treed areas around open fields.

Near their roosts, they select a “strut zone.”  During the opening days of mating season, they may not use the strut zones at all. However, in the waning days of the season — when the number of hens starts to drop (hens have moved to their nests for incubation), the boys may get started strutting right after coming down from their roosts.


Merriam's: Note the White Tips on the Lower Back & Tail Feathers!

Merriams – live in the western US. They prefer ponderosa pines, along creek beds or on the sides of canyons. In the eastern part of their range, there are no pines and they use hardwood trees.

Merriam’s are ‘travelin’ turkeys.’ They like to move around and seem to find a new roost each night. The turkeys tend to travel in mixed groups (gobblers, jakes and hens).

The hens like to use Gambel oaks (in mountain areas)  for eating the acorns and for nesting.


Osceola – live only in Florida. These turkeys like to roost over water in cypress trees. They fly to the closest dry land to strut.

It’s easy to hunt for these birds, but hard to take one home because of their unique roosting habits.

Rio Grande Wild Turkeys

Rio Grande – reside mostly in Texas, but range as far north as Kansas and as far south as Mexico.

Oak trees are the preferred roost for these turkeys. However, there are few of these in this arid region, so they roost where they can: sycamores, cottonwoods and hackberry trees.

Strut zones can be anywhere; once they leave their roosts (in the am), they may travel for miles. Food is scarce in these areas, and they have to travel to eat.

Gould’s Wild Turkey

Gould’s Wild Turkey – lives mostly in central Mexico and some reside in New Mexico.  These birds have similar habits to the Merriam’s.

Some hunters comment that they seem wilder than the Merriam turkeys.  Their habitat is drier than the Merriam’s live in – however they often are larger than their Merriam cousins.

Did You Know?

Wild turkeys could live as long as their domesticated cousins, but few do. According to biologists, the wild ones rarely live past 5 years, while the domestic version can live into their teens!


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