A. Physical Characteristics
- How many feathers are on a turkey? An adult turkey has 5,000-6,000 feathers on its body, in patterns called feather tracts (pterylae). Its wings will each have 10 stiff primary feathers and 18 or 19 secondary feathers. And, its tail will have 18 large quill feathers.
Breast sponge - When I cleaned my spring turkey there was red and yellow jelly substance on the gobbler's breast? Is this normal? Yes, it is normal. The gelatinous substance found on the upper breast—near the turkey's crop—is known as breast sponge. Gobblers develop the fatty layer of breast sponge in late winter as they feed heavily in preparation for breeding season. The fat deposit enables gobblers to have energy to spend little time feeding in the breeding season and lots of time displaying to impress hens. Breast sponge can be trimmed away as you clean the bird for consumption. If you refrigerate the bird the breast sponge will become more solid and easier to trim.
- Can turkeys see color? Yes, the structure of a turkeys eyes indicate that they see better in daylight than in the dark and that they are quite capable of seeing colors.
- How well can a turkey hear? Turkeys can hear low-frequency and distant sounds better than humans.
- Do turkeys have a good sense of smell? No. The sense of smell is poorly developed in wild turkeys and many other birds.
- Can turkeys fly? Yes. By alternating strong wingbeats with gliding they may fly a mile or more.
- How fast can a turkey run? Turkeys can run upwards of 12 miles per hour.
- What is the turkey's beard made of? Turkey beards are actually comprised of bristles or filaments that appear to be hair-like, modified feathers known as mesofiloplumes. The individual bristles emerge from a single follicle, or papillae, and the number of bristles in the beard varies. Unlike feathers, beards are not molted each year.
- How fast do turkey beards grow and how long can they get? Beards grow at the rate of 3 to 5 inches per year but the length of the beard is limited because the end is worn as the turkey feeds in snow or even on dry ground. Beards exceeding 10 or 11 inches in length are uncommon in the northeast.
- Can turkeys have more than one beard? Yes. Less than ten percent of gobblers have multiple beards. The most common number of multiple beards is two. Gobblers with up to eight separate beards have been reported.
- Can hens have beards or spurs? On average, ten percent of adult hens have beards; a much smaller percentage has spurs. The rare hens with spurs often have a spur on only one leg. Hen spurs rarely exceed ½-inch in length.
Do gobblers strut at any time other than in the spring? Yes, strutting is not only a sexual display, but it is a display of dominance too. Gobblers will strut to intimidate subordinate toms at any time of year. In the fall when daylight length is similar to spring, gobblers will sometimes strut and act like it is spring. Even in the cold of winter, gobblers that encounter hens will strut to show off.
My friend claims that he saw a hen strutting. Is that possible? It certainly is possible. Strutting has been observed in turkey poults as young as one day old and both sexes can strut. In hens, strutting is usually a response to aggression by another hen or a response to some other strong stimulus. Few hunters can say they have seen a hen strut, but occasionally a spring hunter calling aggressively will bring a hen in strutting. Decoys sometimes bring out the behavior in some hens.
C. Vocalizations (Gobbling)
- Why do turkeys gobble? Gobbling is the song of the wild turkey. Males gobble to attract hens, and as a communication method.
- Do only males gobble? Most often it is the males that gobble. However, hens are capable of gobbling and do so occasionally.
- Do turkeys gobble only in the spring? No, we associate gobbling with the spring and attempts by gobblers to attract hens. Turkeys can and do gobble throughout the year. Toms gobble during the fall, though less frequently than in the spring. Occasionally, turkeys gobble in response to loud and sudden noises. This can happen at any time.
- Is my turkey a gobbler or hen? For the answer click here (PDF).
- What can I tell about a turkey from its tracks? Walking/running, male/female (PDF).
- Can I tell the sex of the bird from its droppings? Yes. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral or curlycue-shaped. Diameter of dropping increases with age of turkey.
- How old is my turkey?
- How long do turkeys live? The average life expectancy of a wild turkey is about three years. Some turkeys live much longer, but most wild turkeys die young. The record for a banded hen in the wild is about 13 years; one gobbler in Massachusetts lived to be 15. The record for a leg banded turkey in Pennsylvania in the wild is at least 8 years old. A youth hunter harvested the gobbler during the 2013 youth turkey season on a State Game Lands in Lancaster County. The male was leg banded as an adult during the winter of 2007 less than 2 miles from where it was harvested. It weighed 21.2 lbs, had 10.5" beard and 1.25" spurs.
E. Food and Feeding
- What is the turkey crop and gizzard? Turkeys have a crop—an enlargement of the esophagus in the neck area—where food is temporarily stored. Not all birds have crops; many seed eating songbirds, ducks and geese have no true crop. It is a special adaptation in birds that need to quickly swallow large amounts of whole foods, such as whole acorns, much faster than the stomach can accommodate. The crop of the turkey is rather large, allowing a large gobbler to eat a pound of food at one meal. The crop softens the food before it enters the gizzard, which is the muscular part of the stomach that grinds the food. A turkey's gizzard has been known to grind hard nuts such as wild pecans within an hour; however, harder nuts, such as hickory nuts, required 30 to 32 hours. Experiments have been done in which turkeys were fed glass, wood and metal objects, and by the following day, the glass objects were pulverized; the wooden objects worn down and the metal objects flattened. Tin plates that required 80 pounds of pressure to bend were crushed flat and partially unrolled, within 24 hours, in a turkey's gizzard. Metal tubes were squeezed flat by the turkey's gizzard. Similar tubes were put in a vise and required 437 pounds of pressure to flatten as the turkey's gizzard had done.
Turkeys, and other birds with well-developed gizzards, swallow grit to aid in the grinding process; however, grit is not necessary to digest food, but it helps. The gizzard is thick and shaped like a biconvex lens, with the muscles arranged in bands. The inside of the gizzard (the koilin lining) is very thick and rough, and it is yellow, green or brown because of regurgitated bile pigments that produce the color. This lining is shed regularly. It also secretes a fluid that hardens into ridges that grind the food. This grinding action is a regular, rhythmic contraction. The gizzard also stores food until gastric juices penetrate the food sufficiently to start the acid breakdown of proteins.
- What do turkeys eat? Turkeys less than 4 weeks old—poults—require a high protein diet and feed predominantly on insects. Juvenile turkeys eat mostly plant material, with 15 to 25% of the diet consisting of animal matter. Adult diets are similar to those of juveniles. Summer diets include grass seeds, flowers, fruits, acorns and insects. In fall, acorns, grains, grapes, dogwood, beechnuts, and black cherry pits are incorporated into the diet. During winter, turkeys may eat fern heads, corn and buds. Springs and seeps become important feeding areas in areas with deep snow. In short, turkeys are opportunistic and may eat most anything, depending on what is available.
- How many pounds of insects will a turkey poult eat in a day? The volume of food consumed by wild turkeys on a daily basis varies by season and abundance. Many studies of wild turkey food habits expressed the volume in terms of cubic centimeters and grams rather than pounds. Certainly the volume of insects that can be consumed by wild turkey poults changes rapidly as the poults grow. Korschgen (1967) reported that domestic turkeys require about 0.03 pounds (13.6 grams) of food per pound of body weight each day to sustain weight. Wild turkeys are more active, but using this information a 10 pound wild turkey would require about 136 grams (0.30 pounds) and a 20 pound gobbler would require 272 grams (0.60 pounds) a day. I think those figures may be a little low- several reports of full crops weighing up to a pound have been reported. Korschgen reported based on personal communication with a researcher at the King Ranch that Adult Rio Grande turkey crops April-June contained and average of 96.8 cc of food and poults about 12.5 cc. July to September adults averaged 51.4 cc and poults averaged 17.0cc. What a cubic centimeter represents in terms of gram or pounds I don’t know.
Based on the need per pound let’s say a one pound poult consumes about 0.03 pounds- less than an ounce of food per day and a four pound poult would consume about 0.12 pounds or about 2 ounces. While much of the diet of poults consists of insects, they also consume vegetable matter. This is a pure guess but let’s say a hen with a brood of four poults at age 8 weeks would consume about 0.72 pounds of insects and vegetable matter a day. If 90 percent of the consumption is insect that would be about 0.65 pounds (10.4 ounces). Insects don’t weight much so that’s still a hefty number of bugs.
- Can bearded hens reproduce? Yes, bearded hens have been seen nesting and observed with young.
- When do turkeys in Pennsylvania breed, nest and hatch? Breeding can begin as early as the end of March, when winter flocks disperse. This is the time when hens seek a nesting area and gobblers begin gobbling in earnest. A hen can be bred by the gobbler daily, but the sperm is held in the hen's oviduct for up to four weeks. One successful breeding is sufficient to fertilize the eggs for an entire clutch (sometimes two clutches, if the hen loses her first nest and successively re-nests).
A hen turkey lays an egg nearly every day until her nest contains 8-15 (average of 12; younger birds produce smaller clutches). She will begin incubating constantly after all eggs are laid. The average Pennsylvania incubation date from a ten-year study, 1953-1963, was April 28. The date was determined by field personnel who aged all broods they saw throughout the summer months. More recently during a radio-telemetry study in southcentral Pennsylvania, the average incubation date was May 15, after a cold and snowy winter (1999), and, after a normal winter (2000), was May 8 (for adult hens) and May 13 (for juvenile hens; first year of nesting). Juvenile hens often breed later than adults.
That 2000 nesting season began with the first egg being laid on April 12 and ended with the last hen hatching her nest on June 27. The first adult and juvenile hens began incubating on April 27 and May 8, respectively. Average hatch dates were June 6 for adults and June 18 for juveniles. One adult hen began incubating a second nest attempt on May 31 and successfully hatched on June 27.
The 2001 nesting season began earlier than 2000, with the first egg being laid on April 4, and ended later with the last hen losing her third nest attempt on July 30. The first adult and juvenile hens began incubating on April 19 and May 1, respectively. Average incubation date of initial nests for adults was May 6 and for juveniles was May 11. Average hatch date for adults was June 3 and for juveniles was June 10. Many hens that lost their first nests re-nested. Average re-nest hatch date was July 9 for adults and July 11 for juveniles.
The latest documented incubating turkey hen in Pennsylvania was recorded in 2008 in southeastern PA (Bucks County), where a dairy farmer mowing a hay field on October 9, 2008 found a hen turkey on a nest containing four eggs. The hen eventually abandoned the nest. It is not known whether the eggs were fertile, but we speculate they were not.
- How many times does a hen need to breed a gobbler to ensure all her eggs are fertile? Once. The gobbler's sperm is stored in the hen's oviduct, so that fertilized eggs may be laid up to four weeks after mating. One mating is usually sufficient to fertilize an entire clutch. A hen lays an egg nearly every day until her nest contains 8 to 15 (average of 12; smaller clutches by younger birds), and begins incubating constantly after all eggs are laid.
- Can a hen renest without being bred again by a gobbler? Yes.
- Where do turkeys nest? Turkeys nest on the ground.
- When do hens begin to incubate, and how long? A hen turkey doesn't begin incubating until she lays the entire clutch of eggs, and incubates it for 28 days so that hatching is synchronized.
- Does a hen roost in a tree while she's incubating? Most hens stay on the nest after they have begun to incubate. Occasionally a hen will tree roost early in incubation, but this is uncommon. Typically, hens stay on the nest at night, which makes her more prone to predation, one reason she conceals her nest next to a guard object.
- How many eggs do hens lay? 10 to 12 on average.
- What do turkey eggs look like? Eggs are oval and pointed markedly at one end. The smooth, dull shells are pale buff colored and are evenly marked with reddish-brown spots or fine dots.
- Are wet and cold springs bad for nesting success? Wet springs are associated with greater potential for predation of nests and hens may be more prone to abandon nests in wet weather. The reason biologists believe predation rates increase in wet weather has to do with scenting conditions. Wet hens may leave a more significant scent trail allowing predators to be more successful at finding nests.
- How many hens will nest? Of these, how many nests hatch successfully? Nearly all adult hens will attempt to nest in a given year. Studies of eastern wild turkeys indicate that between 75 and 100 percent of adult hens try to nest. Of those, between 30 and 62 percent will be successful at hatching a brood. Juvenile hens (one-year-olds) nest at a lower rate than adult hens, often nest later than adult hens and are less successful.
- If I disturb a hen off her nest, will she return? Whether or not the hen returns will depend on a couple of factors. The longer the hen has been incubating, the more likely she is to return to the nest if disturbed. In the first week or so of incubation, there is a greater likelihood that the hen will abandon the nest. If you flush a hen from the nest, the best thing you can do is leave the area quickly to minimize the disturbance.
- If I touch a turkey egg will the hen smell me and abandon the nest? Wild turkeys have a very poor sense of smell so the hen cannot detect human odor and abandon her eggs for that reason.
- Will a hen renest if her poults die? Rarely. There is only one research publication documenting this. The authors documented three occurrences of re-nesting after hens successfully hatched and lost broods. However, none of the re-nests were successful. All three broods had been lost within five days of hatching. (C.A. Harper and J.H. Exum. 1999. Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) renest after successful hatch. Wilson Bulletin 111(3): 426-427.)
G. Wild turkey young
- What is a young turkey called? Young wild turkeys are called poults. Newly hatched poults are sometimes referred to as chicks.
- Can turkey poults fly? Turkey poults have no wing feathers when they first hatch and cannot fly. Within 10 days to two weeks they can fly short distances. Once their wing feathers begin emerging from their shafts, poults can fly to low-hanging branches and roost above ground at night.
- What do young turkeys eat? Young turkeys feed almost entirely on insects and insect larvae for the first several weeks and continue to utilize insects until well into the fall. Insects are a great source of protein that is much needed to sustain the fast growth and feather development of the poults.
- How fast do turkey poults grow? In the first few months of life, weight gain is steady and averages just over a pound per month. Between three and seven months of age, the same degree of weight gain happens every two weeks. Young gobblers will weigh approximately 12.5 pounds after seven months, and young hens will weigh eight pounds. After seven months, growth slows and weight gain is correlated with seasonal food availability.
- What is the normal survival rate of wild turkey poults? The proportion of poults that die in their first two weeks of life ranged from 56 to 73 percent in a number of studies of eastern wild turkeys. Most poult mortality takes place in the early part of their lives when they cannot roost in trees. Though these losses may seem excessive, turkey populations can grow or be despite such losses.
- Do young turkeys drown in the rain? Definitely not! This myth may have had its origin in domestic turkeys. Young domestic turkeys may crowd under a shelter or in the corner of a pen when heavy rains occur, causing some of the birds to be trampled or suffocate. This does not happen to wild turkeys.
- Are wet springs bad for young turkeys? Wet springs are less productive than dry springs. There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Young poults have difficulty regulating their body temperature in cold rainy weather and wet hens cannot brood (settle down and share their body warmth) their young as well when they are soaking wet.
- Why do I see very large flocks of hens and their young during late summer and fall? Turkeys flock together for protection from predators and to feed together on abundant food sources. When poults are about three weeks old, several family groups may merge to form a flock of hens and poults. In autumn, flocks often contain several old hens and their young, and occasionally hens that have not raised broods, for a total of 40 or more birds. Old toms usually remain apart, in pairs or trios. During early winter, family groups disperse and form new flocks by sex and age: hens, young toms and old toms.
Will turkeys destroy or eat ruffed grouse eggs? No. A study in Florida by Dr. Bill Palmer monitored 400 quail nests with micro-video cameras. Although the Florida study site had a large—30 to 60 birds per square mile—turkey population, the research revealed that "Not once ... did the researchers record a turkey destroying a quail nest or ... eating or killing a chick."
Do turkeys and ruffed grouse compete for food? No. The preferred foods of the two birds are dissimilar enough to preclude competition. During winter conditions—the most stressful period for both species—ruffed grouse feed primarily on the dormant buds of trees and shrubs, while turkeys are feeding on mast crops and waste grains. During summer, forage is readily available to both of these ground-foraging species as insects, grasses, seeds and berries are abundant. Turkeys are more "generalists" than ruffed grouse and, therefore, utilize almost all successional stages. Grouse are better adapted to make use of mostly early to mid-successional forests. Turkeys use this habitat type for nesting, escape and feeding. Nesting habitat for the two species is similar. Occasionally biologists hear people claim that turkeys take over grouse nests. In a five-year study of wild turkey nesting and survival in Virginia, only three nests were located that contained both turkey and grouse eggs. Who came first is unknown.
I. Why is that turkey all alone? The wild turkey species is, by nature, a flocking and social species. Being such, flocks maintain home ranges and recognize individual animals within each flock. They establish a 'pecking order' (like chickens) with dominant and subordinate individuals. Dominant individuals will peck at or chase subordinates, especially away from food sources.
There are two possibilities (or a combination) for this lone hen. 1) She is a subordinate, and cannot compete in the pecking order of the flock. Instead of constantly being suppressed, she has chosen to interact no longer with the flock and to survive on her own. 2) She is an old hen that has been barren for a few years (did not successfully raise a brood, or did not attempt to lay eggs due to age), and, being without poults, she has no incentive to socialize (join a flock of other hens without broods). Barren hens typically flock with others without broods, whereas hens with young will form their own flock. Being an older hen, the other cohorts from her original flock may have all died. Often it is difficult for an unrecognized adult individual to join another flock. Wild hen turkeys typically can survive in the wild to 5 or 6 years old.
A. What is the origin of what propagators call a bronze turkey?
(Information provided by Bob Eriksen, NWTF Conservation Field Supervisor, Northeastern US): The origin of all domestic varieties is the Mexican wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo gallapavo). Selective breeding in Europe after the Spanish brought domestic birds to that continent resulted in a number of breeds with different characteristics. The bronze variety actually originated in North America in the 1800's by breeders crossing wild and domestic stock to obtain the darker colors and metallic iridescence. There is a good summary of domestic turkey varieties on Wikipedia with good photos. There are a number of recognized standard breeds. Among them are: broad-breasted white, broad-breasted bronze, standard bronze, Royal Palm, Black or Spanish black, slate or blue slate, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, chocolate, Beltsville white and midget white.
B. How can we tell a bronze from a wild eastern?
(Information provided by Bob Eriksen, NWTF Conservation Field Supervisor, Northeastern US): The standard bronze does not have the "double-wide" breast of the broad-breasted varieties. Most bronze turkeys exhibit domestic traits such as heavier legs than wild birds, lighter leg color than wild birds (very light pink to gray or white), light cream colored to white tips on the retrices (major tail feathers) and upper and lower tail coverts. In addition the heads of both sexes are usually more heavily ornamented than wild birds. Very large major caruncles, heavy snoods and crowns and large dewlaps are typical. Broad-breasted bronze turkeys are too heavy to breed naturally and must be artificially inseminated unless young toms are used for breeding. The standard bronze is lighter and can breed naturally but it is still heavier at younger ages than wild birds.
A. A friend of mine saw a white turkey with a flock of wild birds. Is the white bird an escaped domestic turkey?
The white hen is probably a color phase known as the smoky-gray. From a distance, these birds appear to be white, though they are not albino. They have dark eyes and normal-colored legs. Up close you can actually see all the colors of the typical eastern wild turkey. However, the colors are muted or ghost-like, making the bird appear white or light gray. This color phase is a recessive trait and it is likely that the bird's mother was a typically colored wild turkey. However, both her mother and her father had a recessive gene for this color phase. So, it is likely that the offspring of the light colored hen would be of typical color. She would have to mate with a gobbler that had the recessive trait in order to produce white poults and the chances of that happening are pretty slim.
B. Are other odd colors ever seen in real wild turkeys?
Yes, three other recessive traits for coloration occur occasionally in wild turkeys, but few people will ever see them.
- True albinism is extremely uncommon and has only been reported a handful of times. Such birds are pure white with pink eyes.
- On the other end of the spectrum is the melanistic or black color phase. A melanistic wild turkey is very dark in color and areas that are typically light colored on the bird would be dark as well.
- An erythristic or red color phase is seen occasionally.
C. Why do some hens have beards?
Turkey beards are specialized structures of the skin that arise from a raised area of skin called a papilla. While all hens have a papilla, only around 10 percent (1 to 29 percent, depending on the population) actually have a beard. Hen beards tend to be shorter and thinner than gobbler beards. Bearded hens are able to reproduce successfully.
D. How common are multiple beards?
Fewer than 10 percent of gobblers have more than one beard. In the case of multiple beards, the gobbler has more than one papilla and a different beard emerges from each one.
E. Are blond beards unusual?
Typically, turkey beards are dark gray or black in color. Sometimes hunters note a white residue on the beard. This residue is a waxy substance that adheres to the bristles as the beard grows out of the papilla. It is usually confined to the first few inches of the beard. Lighter colors are sometimes seen on other portions of the beard. The most common are bands of amber (orange) or blond across the beard horizontally. These light colors are likely areas of less melanin, the dark pigment that colors the beard. The lack of melanin may be a dietary deficiency or it may be inherited. In any case, the lighter colors indicate areas of weakness in the beard that may be more likely to break off. On occasion the whole beard will be blond or amber in color.
F. Is it possible for gobblers to have multiple spurs?
Multiple spurs are quite rare. Only one in perhaps a thousand gobblers has more than one spur on each leg. Double- and triple-spurred gobblers have been reported.
G. Why do some birds have white in their tail feathers?
The white barring or markings on the central tail feathers of a gobbler occurs with some regularity on adult gobblers. It is estimated that about 10 percent of gobblers exhibit this kind of barring on their central tail feathers. The white barring is usually confined to the central two or three pairs of retrices or major tail feathers. This odd coloration is sometimes observed on jakes and occasionally noted in adult hens. It is not restricted to eastern wild turkeys. Biologists have noted white barring on the central tail feathers of Merriams turkeys, Rio Grande wild turkeys and the Florida or Osceola subspecies, too.
Biologists theorize that this coloration may be caused by a dietary deficiency. Poultry experts have documented feather color abnormalities in domestic fowl and traced those abnormalities to vitamin deficiency. A dietary deficiency may be associated with the condition of the wild turkey when those feathers are growing. The central tail feathers are molted in mid-summer when many other feathers are being replaced. The demand for nutrients to grow feathers may exceed the availability of those nutrients when the molt is occurring in some birds or in certain years resulting in the barring of the tail feathers.
A. Do turkeys die during harsh winters?
Not typically in Pennsylvania - The Pennsylvania Game Commission has not documented any severe turkey winter mortaility since the three consecutive severe winters of 1976-78. Possible disease transmission from concentrated feeding sites.
B. Should I feed turkeys during the winter? Will winter-feeding increase turkey winter survival?
No Winter Feeding Policy and Hixon 1997 paper (PDF)
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a policy of no winter feeding of wildlife. The Game Commission used to have a winter feeding program, but abandoned it because it is ineffective and impractical, and scientific studies of winter feeding programs are almost universal in pointing out the large numbers of disadvantages as opposed to a very few advantages.
(In 1997, a Game Commission intern, Raymond Hixson, developed a report on winter feeding of deer and turkeys, and I will provide the highlights on turkeys.) Turkeys, like deer and other wildlife that are active during winter, have adaptations that help their survival. Fat tissues comprise 25 percent of winter body weights in adult turkeys and 15 percent in juveniles. The increased winter fat serves as an energy reserve and as added insulation, thereby improving survival. Body weight losses of 35 percent in adult wild turkeys and 25 percent in juveniles can result in death, although some wild turkeys may lose a third of their body weight without any devastating effects. Adults have a survival edge over juvenile birds due to greater adipose and muscle tissue reserves. Turkey hens survive longer than males when exposed to severe cold in fasting conditions. Although males may have greater fat reserves, females need relatively less food.
Effects of snow on food availability and turkey mobility are more important to survival than temperature alone. Natural winter turkey food is primarily hard mast that is found on the ground. They also eat ferns, bulbs, and tubers, as well as grass and it's seeds, corn and grains, and what they can pick out of manure that is spread in fields. Vegetation and insects in and along spring seeps also are important. Turkeys often will frequent and roost in conifer stands on sunny slopes where snow melts quickly and bottom areas where terrain moderates the prevailing westerly winds.
Beside other factors, disease transmission is a threat with winter-feeding. Aflatoxicosis, a condition where toxins produced by fungi on spoiled feed, particularly grains, cause wildlife mortality, and may affect turkeys.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has conducted extensive field research regarding winter-feeding of wild turkeys. In a 19-year study in the Potato Creek drainage of McKean County to determine the effect of supplemental winter-feeding on wild turkey populations, winter turkey losses of up to 30 percent were found during severe winters with fluffy snow conditions, despite supplemental feeding in portions of the study area. Losses of up to 60 percent were documented in higher elevations. Populations usually recovered in one or two years, except during the period of three consecutive severe winters (1976-78), which resulted in depressed populations for three years before showing signs of recovery.
Two hunting preserves with controlled hunting in Elk County were evaluated. Expensive, intensive feeding programs were conducted. Food was distributed regularly along plowed roads. In one preserve, 150-200 turkeys consistently fed along roads. Following the three successive severe winters, the entire preserve was searched on foot and snowmobile. Only 16 turkeys were found in 1978 despite continual feeding programs. Turkey losses were attributed to winter mortality and poor recruitment. A similar decline occurred on the other preserve. Intensive feeding programs did not prove effective.
In one Pennsylvania study, turkey populations were more dependent on the previous summer's reproductive success than upon the mildness of the preceding winter or the number of breeders available. Other research has confirmed these results.
It is not necessarily winter survival that impacts populations, but rather, the success of summer reproduction. Cold, wet springs have the most detrimental effect on survival of turkey poults. Young birds are not only susceptible to hypothermia, but also, cold, wet springs delay insect emergence. Insects comprise the majority of a young poult's diet. Hens that come into the spring in good condition have a greater probability of renesting if their initial nest attempt fails. Therefore, good winter habitat as well as good brood habitat are the most important factors for turkey populations.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission stresses the necessity for habitat management and is extensively engaged in habitat improvement projects designed to provide more natural winter foods for wildlife. The Game Commission does plow State Game Lands roads primarily to open travel lanes and uncover planted food plots for wildlife. The Game Commission suggests that people and clubs develop habitat improvement projects that provide long-term habitat improvement and increase the carrying capacity of the habitat. Examples are planting mast and fruit producing trees and shrubs and protecting the plantings until large enough to survive deer browsing. Planting evergreen cover to provide winter thermal cover also is beneficial. Browse cutting along roadsides as well as timbering to provide regeneration also are beneficial, as well as maintaining spring seeps, which are very important feeding areas for wildlife during severe winters.
A. Were turkeys ever extirpated from Pennsylvania?
No. By the 1930s, wild turkey populations were extirpated or reduced to dangerously low levels except in the more remote and rugged portions of their original range. Up to 10% of the 30,000 turkeys remaining nationwide survived in the rugged Ridge and Valley Province of central Pennsylvania. These locales were not suitable for farming or lumbering, and were difficult for hunters to access.
B. What caused the near extinction of wild turkeys?
The two major factors were excessive sustenance and market hunting by early settlers and destruction of forests by logging and agricultural development.
C. Have turkeys always lived throughout all of Pennsylvania?
Not likely. When Pennsylvania was first settled, eastern wild turkeys were abundant, with the exception of the Allegheny Plateau Region in the northcentral part of the state. Prolonged deep snow cover and understory shading from vast expanses of forests containing virgin white pine and eastern hemlock probably combined to create an unsuitable environment for wild turkeys in this region.
D. Turkey Game Farms
- When did the Pennsylvania Game Commission begin the turkey game farms? 1915.
- How many game farm turkeys did the Pennsylvania Game Commission release? The Pennsylvania Game Commission raised and released more than 200,000 game farm turkeys between 1930 and 1980. In 1979, the Commission committed to accelerated transfers of wild-trapped turkeys into the state's remaining suitable but unoccupied turkey habitats.
- When were the turkey game farms closed in Pennsylvania? 1980.
- Why did the Pennsylvania Game Commission close the turkey game farms? Fifty years of game-farm raised turkeys introductions had failed, whereas only 15 years of releases of wild-trapped turkeys led to successful establishment of self-sustaining wild turkey populations across Pennsylvania.
E. Trap and Transfer
- How many wild turkeys have been trapped and transferred within Pennsylvania? Nearly 2,800 turkeys have been trapped and transferred to 39 counties within Pennsylvania from 1960 - 2003.
- How many wild turkeys have been transferred to other states? Almost 900 turkeys have been transferred to 9 states as of Yr. 2007.