More Fascinating Facts About Wild Turkeys!

Turkeys of a Feather

Are you aware that young jakes have longer primary feathers in the center of their fan-shaped

Jakes Have Longer Tail Feathers in the Center of the Main Fan; All the Tail Feathers of a Mature Tom are the Same Length.


In fact that is a way to tell a mature tom from a young jake. Keep in mind that the only time you will see those longer tail feathers is when a jake struts!

Feather Colors

At a distance, hen feathers look dark brown while a tom’s appear black.

Each of the 5 subspecies of wild turkeys has unique characteristics.  For an in-depth explanation (with photos), refer to these earlier articles:

Head Colors

Perhaps the reason Ben Franklin wanted to name the turkey as the symbol of the US (instead of the bald eagle), is because a male gobbler’s head color is red, white and blue!

In contrast, a hen’s head color is a rather dull blue-gray.

Caruncle Considerations!

Also known as wattles, caruncles are the fleshy growths that hang from the turkey’s head and neck.  According to Wikipedia, “The wattle is often an ornament for courting potential mates. A large wattle is correlated with high testosterone levels, good nutrition ….” *

An adult gobbler’s caruncle will turn bright red when he is sexually excited. In contrast, a hen has a smaller wattle that is pink. An excited jake will have a wattle  that is more pink than red.

FYI for Hunters

In the latter days of the mating season, it may be easier for a hunter to take a tom.  He’s still interested in sex but there are fewer hens available for breeding.  

As more hens start nesting, gobblers may resort to more strident calling for females. Since he’s more stressed (looking for the few hens remaining to breed), he’s more likely to make a mistake — and move into the crosshairs of a hunter’s gun.


*  Wikipedia, from the page — “Wattle (anatomy)”


Thanks for stopping by; come again!


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Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 7:21 am  Comments Off on More Fascinating Facts About Wild Turkeys!  
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Talkin’ Turkey: The Rio Grande & Merriam’s Subspecies

Since the Eastern Wild Turkey’s habitat is the largest and they are the bird you are most likely to see, I’ll be comparing the 2 today to the Eastern.  Next time, I’ll spend time with tips for hunting the Eastern.

By explaining them in reverse order, this gives the reader an opportunity to scratch their head and say, “What was she thinking?”

Rio Grande Wild Turkeys

Rios are Turkeys for the Desert & Dry, Open Areas!

Looking at a bearded Rio from the side, or above, he looks almost like polished copper.  It’s great camouflage for hiding in his habitat — sun-soaked desert areas.

How can you find Rios?  They need food, water to drink and live oaks for roosting.

Where there are no live oaks, check out the cottonwoods, sycamores and hackberries.

Their strut zones can be anywhere in the open country where Rios live.  One distinctive thing about the Rios has to do with traveling.

After they leave their roost in the morning, they may travel a long distance before settling again.  If you recall, in Just How Much Land Do Turkeys Need, I made the point that turkeys are not migratory.

However, in the huge expanses of dry, arid land of Texas, Rios may need to travel larger distances to find sufficient food for the members of the group.

Merriam’s Wild Turkey

Merriam's are Distinctive: Tipped White Tail Feathers & More Black Feathers Instead of Brown

Often called Rocky Mountain turkeys because of their habitat, these gobblers prefer to roost in ponderosa pines (in canyons), near creek beds. On the eastern edge of their habitat, where there are no pines, the gobblers roost in hardwoods.

Unique Features of the Merriam’s Turkey

Merriam’s prefer acorns, but there are few oaks in their range.  If you see, however,  a small oak, known as the Gambel — Merriam’s turkeys will try to use these smallish tree for food and roosting.

Merriam’s hens also are drawn to Gambel oaks.  They use these trees for nesting areas and food.  Since the hens are in the oaks, toms will likely be there too.

Traveling in good-sized, mixed groups (hens, jakes, toms and jennys) is a pattern of the Merriam’s. Unlike the Eastern turkey, these Rocky Mountain turkeys tend to find a new roost each night.


Next Time: the Eastern Wild Turkey Subspecies


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Talkin’ Turkey: Which Turkeys Are Where?

The Next Few Articles

Today’s article will tell which subspecies of  gobblers are in each state.  Next, I’ll share info on each subspecies — including the differences between them.

After that, I’ll discuss some mating and roosting behaviors.  Finally, I’ll share what I know about shotguns and computing the density of your shot.

These Turkeys are Thinkin' 'bout Spring!

The Eastern Wild Turkey

If you remember the pictures of turkeys plastered on school room windows in the first grade, then you know what the eastern gobbler looks like.  This is the largest group of wild turkey in America.

States with ONLY the Eastern Variety:  *

  • Alabama,
  • Arkansas,
  • Connecticut,
  • Georgia,
  • Illinois,
  • Indiana,
  • Iowa,
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana,
  • Maine,
  • Maryland,
  • Massachusetts,
  • Michigan,
  • Minnesota,
  • Mississippi,
  • Missouri,
  • New Hampshire,
  • New Jersey,
  • New York,
  • North Carolina,
  • Ohio,
  • Pennsylvania,
  • Rhode Island,
  • South Carolina,
  • Tennessee,
  • Vermont,
  • Virginia,
  • West Virginia, and
  • Ontario, Canada

States with Eastern Plus Other Turkeys

Eastern & Osceola: Florida

Eastern & Rio Grande Turkeys: Kansas, Texas

Eastern, Rio Grande & Merriam’s Turkeys: Oklahoma

Rio Grande Gobblers

Rios are slightly smaller than the Eastern species, but have larger, thicker feet than the Easterners. The are fewer Rios than Eastern toms, but more than the Merriam’s or Osceola’s.

States with ONLY Rios (this is not a misprint!):  Hawaii

States w Rios & Merriam’s Turkey: California, Nebraska and Oregon

The Merriam’s Wild Turkey

These are often called the Rocky Mountain turkeys because, oddly enough, most live in states around the Rocky Mountains.

States With  ONLY Merriam’s:

  • Arizona,
  • Colorado,
  • Idaho,
  • Montana,
  • New Mexico,
  • North & South Dakota,
  • Utah,
  • Washington,
  • Wyoming

Next time, I’ll spend time on the Osceola and Gould’s Wild Turkey!

Turkey Hunting Season(s) by State

Here are the open turkey seasons by state.

Only Spring Turkey Season:

  • Georgia,
  • Idaho,
  • Louisiana,
  • Maine,
  • New Jersey,
  • North & South Carolina,
  • Ohio,
  • Rhode Island,
  • Utah
  • Ontario, Canada

According to the info I have, all remaining states offer turkey hunting in the spring AND the fall! **


* and ** The info I’ve shared here may have changed.  Biologists are trying to move wild turkeys into new areas all the time.  If you have new info about subspecies moving into your state, please let me know so I can correct this.

Likewise, states change hunting seasons for a variety of reasons.  If you have different info about turkey season in your state, please let me know:  marylouise at


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Talking Turkey: Which of the 5 Types are Near You?

Across North America, there are 5 subspecies of the turkey (genus Meleagris)

Eastern Turkey

These Guys are 'Thinkin' Spring!'

These  turkeys  ‘strut their stuff’  from Maine to the northern regions of Florida and west to Oklahoma.  This is the largest group of the wild turkey.

Merriam’s Turkeys

This subspecies lives in the western US.  Generally, they are somewhat smaller than the eastern types.

Osceola Turkey

This is a small group of turkeys that roam over Florida, and no where else!

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

This subspecies calls Texas “home” but can range as far north as Kansas and down south into Mexico.

Gould’s Wild Turkey

These birds hale from central Mexico but often wander north into New Mexico.


Turkey Info: Did Ya’ Know?

A Turkey’s Weight – A wild turkey’s habitat determines his weight. They can reach 20 lbs. in the agricultural areas of the Midwest. In other areas, they average somewhat less than 20 lbs.

How Far Do Turkeys Forage? Biologists claim that turkeys can travel between 1 and 2 miles per day.

However, if the birds are living in an area that cannot support a large number,  they range further – between 50 acres to 5 miles!

What Causes Turkeys to Move to a New Area? In general, turkeys do not migrate.  They tend to acclimatize to the area they are in and stay close within the region.  However, they will move out of an area if something scares them away (predators, for example)  or the land will no longer support their numbers.

How Fast Can Gobblers Move? Turkeys can run as fast as 15 mph – on the ground!  In the air, they can reach 55 mph!


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Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm  Comments Off on Talking Turkey: Which of the 5 Types are Near You?  
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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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