Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) - Wiki
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[Photo] Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) male, photographed in Eastern United States. Date 3 April, 2005. Author http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dimus
The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is native to North America and is the heaviest member of the Galliformes. It is one of two species of turkey, the other being the Ocellated Turkey, found in Central and South America. Adult Wild Turkeys have a small, featherless, reddish head, that can change to blue in muinutes; a red throat in males; long reddish-orange to greyish-blue legs; and a dark-brown to black body. The head has fleshy growths called caruncles; in excited turkeys, a fleshy flap on the bill expands, becoming engorged with blood. Males have red wattles on the throat and neck. Each foot has four toes, and males have rear spurs on their lower legs.
Turkeys have a long, dark, fan-shaped tail and glossy bronze wings. As with many other species of the Galliformes, turkeys exhibit strong sexual dimorphism. The male is substantially larger than the female, and his feathers have areas of red, purple, green, copper, bronze, and gold iridescence. Female feathers are duller overall, in shades of brown and gray. Parasites can dull coloration of both sexes; in males, coloration may serve as a signal of health. The primary wing feathers have white bars.
Turkeys have between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers. Tail feathers have the same length in adults, different lengths in juveniles. Males typically have a "beard" consisting of modified feathers that stick out from the breast. Beards average 9 inches in length. In some populations, 10 to 20 percent of females have a beard, usually shorter and thinner than that of the male. The average weight of the adult male is 8.2 kg (18 lb) and the adult female is 3.2 kg (8 lb). The average length is 1.09 m (3.5 ft) and the average wingspan is 1.44 m (4.8 ft). The record-sized adult male wild turkey, according to the National Wildlife Turkey Federation was (38 lbs).
Flight and calls
Turkeys are surprisingly agile fliers and very cunning, unlike their domestic counterparts. In flight they can reach a speed of 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour). They usually fly close to the ground for no more than a quarter mile (400 meters). Turkeys have many vocalizations: "gobbles," "clucks," "putts," "purrs," "yelps," "cutts," "cackles," and "kee-kees." In early spring, male turkeys, also called gobblers or toms, gobble to announce their presence to females and competing males. The gobble can carry for up to a mile. Males also emit a low-pitched drumming sound. Hens "yelp" to let gobblers know their location. Gobblers often yelp in the manner of females, and hens can gobble, though they rarely do so. Immature males, called jakes, yelp often.
Habitat, nesting, and migration
Although turkeys often feed in woods, for mating they move to areas that provide visibility, such as open woods, fields, pastures, shrubby growth, and even quiet roads, using their excellent eyesight to spot danger. Open areas near woods or brush give displaying males and the females they attract a quick means of escape.
Hens nest on the ground at the base of a tree or shrub, or in tall grass. At night, they roost in trees. Turkeys living near lakes or river backwaters may roost on tree limbs overhanging water.
Wild Turkeys, which do not migrate, have benefited from reintroduction programs across the United States. In those places where they are not hunted or harassed, they often become accustomed to human proximity. Turkeys have taken up residence on golf courses and are reported to be established in New York City's Central Park. City dwellers and suburbanites have generally welcomed this influx, though a few view turkeys as interlopers. Although every spring media reports make much of turkeys crossing city streets, wandering into buildings or up fire escapes, and standing their ground against humans, such incidents hardly represent the norm. Given the choice, turkeys tend to avoid people.
Wild Turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. They prefer eating hard mast such as acorns and nuts of various trees, including hazel, chestnut, hickory, and pinyon pine as well as various seeds, berries such as juniper and bearberry, roots and insects. Turkeys are also known to occasionally consume small vertebrates like snakes, frogs or salamanders. Poults have been observed eating insects, berries, and seeds. Wild turkeys often feed in cow pastures. They sometimes visit backyard bird feeders to search for seed on the ground. Turkeys are also known to eat a wide variety of grasses. Moreover, around 80% of a turkey's diet is made up of grass.
Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food. Early morning and late afternoon are the desired times for eating.
Social structure and mating habits
Males are polygamous, so they form territories that may have as many as 5 hens within them. Male Wild Turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings. This behavior is most commonly referred to as strutting. Their heads and necks are colored brilliantly with red, blue and white. The color can change with the turkeys mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited. They also use their gobble noises and make scrapes on the ground for territorial purposes. Courtship begins during the months of March and April, which is when turkeys are still flocked together in winter areas.
Males are often seen courting in pairs with both inflating their waddles and spreading tail feathers. Only the dominant male would strut and drum on the ground. The average dominant male that courted as part of a pair fathered six more eggs than males that courted alone. Genetic analysis of pairs of males courting together show that they are close relatives with half of their genetic material being identical. The theory behind the team-courtship is that the less dominant male would have a greater chance of passing along genetic material that is identical to his than he would if he was courting alone.
When mating is finished, females search for nest sites. Nests are shallow dirt depressions engulfed with woody vegetation. Hens lay a clutch of 10-14 eggs, usually one per day. The eggs are incubated for at least 28 days. The poults are precocial and nidifugous, leaving the nest in about 12-24 hours.
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 1900s. Game officials made efforts to protect and encourage the breeding of the surviving wild population. As the Wild Turkey's numbers rebounded hunting was legalized in 49 US states, excluding Alaska. In 1973 the total population was estimated to be 1.3 million wild turkeys. Current estimates place the entire wild turkey population at 7 million individuals. In recent years, trap and transfer projects have introduced Wild Turkeys to several provinces of Canada as well.
Subspecies of Wild Turkey
There are subtle difference in the coloration of the different sub-species of Wild Turkeys. The six subspecies are:
Eastern (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)
Range covers the entire eastern half of the United States; extending also into South Eastern Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces in Canada. They number from 5.1 to 5.3 million birds. They were first named forest turkey in 1817, and can grow up to 4 feet tall. The upper tail coverts are tipped with chestnut brown.
Osceola or Florida (Meleagris gallopavo osceola)
Found only on the Florida peninsula. They number from 80,000 to 100,000 birds. This bird is named for the famous Seminole Chief Osceola, and was first described in 1980. It is smaller and darker than the Eastern turkey. The wing feathers are very dark with smaller amounts of the white barring seen on other sub-species. Their overall body feathers are iridescent green-purple color.
Rio Grande (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia)
Ranges through Texas to Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Central and Western California, as well as parts of a few northeastern states. Rio Grande turkeys were also introduced to Hawaii in the late 1950s. Population estimates for this subspecies range from 1,022,700 to 1,025,700. This sub-species is native to the central plain states. They were first described in 1879, and have disproportionately long legs. Their body feathers often have a green-coppery sheen to them. The tips of the tail and lowrer back feathers are a buff-very light tan color. Habitats are brush areas next to streams, rivers or mesquite pine and scrub oak forests. Only turkey to be found up to 6,000 feet in elevation and are gregarious.
Merriam's (Meleagris gallopavo merriami)
Ranges through the Rocky Mountains and the neighboring prairies of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota as well as much of the high mesa country of New Mexico. They number from 334,460 to 344,460 birds. Live in ponderosa pine and mountain regions. Named in 1900 in honor of C. Hart Merriam, the first chief of the US Biological Survey. The tail and lower back feathers have white tips. They have purple and bronze reflections.
Gould's (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana)
Native from central to northern Mexico and the southern-most parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Heavily protected and regulated. First described in 1856. They exist in small numbers but are abundant in Northwestern portions of Mexico. A small population has been established in southern Arizona. Gould's are the largest of the five sub-species. They have longer legs, larger feet, and longer tail feathers. The main color of the body feathers are copper and greenish-gold.
South Mexican (Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo)
The nominate race, and one of the few that are not found in North America. The Aztecs domesticated the southern Mexican sub-species, M. g. mexicana, giving rise to the domesticated turkey which is a popular main dish for the Thanksgiving holiday, held in November in the United States and October in Canada. The pilgrim settlers of Massachusetts brought farmed turkeys with them from England, descendants of the original Mexican domesticated turkeys introduced into Europe by the Spanish, not realising that they occurred wild in America.
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