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Information iconTwo gobblers face off at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Pennsylvania. (Photo: Bill Buchanan/USFWS)

Wild Facts About Wild Turkeys

Those odd birds at your Thanksgiving table are even wilder than you thought. Amuse your guests with some offbeat turkey facts.

Then walk off the meal at a national wildlife refuge where you may you spy wild turkeys strutting and displaying like those in this funny video, filmed at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa and Nebraska.

Who knows? You might emerge looking less like a butterball yourself. (Just joking.)

Read on to learn some oddball turkey trivia and wild turkey hideouts.

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Wild tom (male) turkeys parade with fanned tail feathers at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. A tom is also known as a gobbler. (Photo: Larry Smith/Flickr Creative Commons)

  TURKEY FACT #1: Enough with gobble, gobble. Turkeys also cluck and purr


turkey at parker river nationl wildlife refuges by matt poole usfws
A wild turkey shows its wattle and caruncles at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. The wattle is a skin flap reaching from the beak to the neck. Caruncles are bumps of flesh that cover the birds’ necks and heads. (Photo: Matt Poole/USFWS)

  TURKEY FACT #2: Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.  


rio grande wild turkey pair buffalo lake national wildlife refuges by robert burton usfws
A pair of wild Rio Grande turkeys — a tom (left) and a hen — have eyes for each other at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. (Photo: Robert Burton/USFWS)

  TURKEY FACT #3: Feathers galore: An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers count them!


wild turkey minnisota valley national wildlife regues by mike williams
A wild turkey folds its iridescent feathers, mimicking the look of abstract art, at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Copyright Mike Williams)

  TURKEY FACT #4: Tom turkeys aren’t the only ones that swagger and fan their tail feathers to woo mates and ward off rivals. Some hens strut, too.  


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A wild turkey investigates a sound at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire. (Photo: Matt Poole/USFWS)

  TURKEY FACT #5: Young turkeys — called poults — scarf down insects like candy. Poults develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.


wild turkeys by Jim Osborn Crab Orchard Facebook page
Hey, look at me. No, look at me. Two toms vie for hens’ attention at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois. (Photo: Jim Osborn)

  TURKEY FACT #6: They may look off-kilter tilting their heads and staring at the sky yet they’re fast. Turkeys can clock 18 miles per hour on foot and up to 50 miles per hour in flight.


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One jake struts (young male) while another walks at Sand Lake Wetland Management District in South Dakota.  (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

  TURKEY FACT #7: Move over, American bald eagle. Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol. 


Amazing sunlight coloration on wild turkey near Minnesota Valley Refuge (Courtney Celley-USFWS)
Sunlight brings out amazing colors in the feathers of this wild turkey near Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Courtney Celley/USFWS)

  TURKEY FACT #8: In the early 1900s, wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction, with only about 200,000 left. Through conservation efforts over the past century, with funds derived from the Pittman-Robertson Act, and thanks to sportsmen and women, there are approximately 6.5 million wild birds in the United States today, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.

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A first-year jake with a bright red wattle and a beard patrols at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Pennsylvania. (Photo: Bill Buchanan/USFWS)

Turkey-rich refuges:

St Marks National Wildlife Refuge
To boost your chances of seeing turkeys, lower your car speed to a crawl  “Turkeys are sensitive to the movement of vehicles,” says ranger David Moody or get out and walk, slowly. Turkeys like the open terrain of the longleaf pine sandhill ecosystem along the Florida National Scenic Trail, almost 50 miles of which go through the refuge. $5 entrance fee.

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
Look for turkeys along 50 miles of gravel roads, including 6-mile-long Wildlife Drive. You might also see turkeys off Round Oak Juliette Road, a scenic paved byway. Or try one of the refuge’s five hiking trails. No entrance fee.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
The 1.7- mile Wild Turkey Trail leads through woods and offers a fine chance of seeing … you-know-whats. For more of a challenge, take the connecting 2.2-mile Rocky Bluff Trail. Entrance fee: $2 per vehicle.  

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Several short foot trails give you a chance to glimpse wild turkeys. You might also spy some along Wildlife Drive. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle. 


Wild Turkey-Heinz National Wildlife Refuges by Bill Buchanan
Two gobblers vie for dominance at John Heinz Refuge at Tinicum. The younger tom on the left (uneven tail feathers signify youth) appears to win. (Photo: Bill Buchanan/USFWS)

More turkey-rich refuges:

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
From the visitor center, the half-mile Hillside Trail connects to the Long Meadow Lake Trail. Follow it around the floodplain wetland, keeping your eyes out for wild turkeys. No entrance fee. 

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge has a “healthy population” of the skittish wild birds, says deputy manager Greg Dehmer. Look for them along 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive, two refuge hiking trails, and in prairie fields beside county roads that run through the refuge. No entrance fee.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys hang out here. The North and South Auto Tour Loops are good places to spot some. Other good spots: along the Rio Viejo Trail, the John Taylor Memorial Trail or the bike trail on the east side service road of the Low Flow Conveyance Channel. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge  
Feeder Road takes you on a scenic 3.5-mile drive into the refuge, passing fields and grasslands that are favorite turkey hangouts. The road is open to cars now through February, and to hikers and cyclists year-round. Three other hiking trails are also available. No entrance fee.


Wild turkeys at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge
Wild turkeys take a break from gobbling and strutting to take a sip at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. (Photo: Kelly Preheim)

Still more turkey-rich refuges:

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
Nine-mile Wildlife Drive passes woods and fields where you might spot turkeys, especially in mornings and late afternoons. Or walk any of five hiking trails along the drive. An observation tower in the Oxpen Unit offers exceptional birding and scenic views. No entrance fee.  

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Look for wild turkeys crossing Refuge Road as you drive in the main entrance. Raasch Trail is also a good bet for seeing wild turkeys. No entrance fee.

Refuge trails are open sunrise to sunset daily, even on Thanksgiving Day when refuge visitor centers will be closed. Free trail maps are available outside the visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. Here’s more information on National Wildlife Refuge System trails.  


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Merriam’s wild turkeys strut and feed in Wyoming. (Photo: Courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation)


Compiled by   | November 12, 2019
Information iconA turkey shows its hornlike snood, caruncles (head bumps) and wattle (chin flap). (Photo: Courtney Celley/USFWS)