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Wild Turkey

wild turkeyIndiana Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are a conservation success story. They were extirpated from Indiana and many parts of the U.S. in the early 1900s due to loss of forested habitats and lack of regulations. Between 1956 and 2004, 2,795 wild trapped turkeys were released at 185 sites around the state as part of conservation efforts to restore wild turkeys. Wild turkeys are now found in all 92 counties. Indiana has the Eastern subspecies of wild turkey.

Similar Species

Ruffed grouse

General Characteristics

  • Stand 3.5 feet tall and weigh 15–20 pounds, though they can be as large as 25 pounds.
  • Have a wingspan just under 5 feet, which is about the length of a common park bench.
  • In general, are dark brown and black in color with a metallic sheen.
  • Have a naked head and a neck that has a bluish cast.
  • Males, or gobblers, have bristly “beards” hanging from the center of their breast and can have bright red wattles, the bumpy skin under their head, in the spring.
  • Females, called hens, are smaller, duller in color, and usually lack beards.
  • Generally live 3–4 years in the wild.
  • Roost in trees at night and are active during the day.
  • Often display very cautious and wary behavior.
  • Males “gobble,” or call, and “strut” while displaying their tailfeathers in the spring to attract females.

Distribution and Abundance

Wild turkeys are found in all 92 of Indiana’s counties. They like forests interspersed with fields and are most plentiful in areas with plentiful food and healthy habitat. Turkey populations increased through 2006, then declined and leveled off in 2011. Although an initial decline after a reintroduction peak is common, some states are seeing continued declines. Indiana is closely monitoring its turkey population to ensure its continued health.


Wild turkey hen at Willow SloughWild turkeys form large flocks of mixed sexes in winter. In late winter flocks divide into smaller groups, with hens, young males, and older gobblers each forming their own separate flocks, also known as bands. In the spring, the males select and defend a territory for a flock of hens. Each morning, they call and try to lure away hens from neighboring gobblers. These displays of males strutting their grand tail fans, courtship movements, and occasional fights for mates are performed from February through May.

Hens become solitary to tend their nest. They build nests on the ground, often concealed by brush and low vegetation when they can find suitable cover. Nests may contain seven to 20 eggs, but the average amount is 12. The hen seldom leaves the nest once the 28-day incubation period starts. Turkey young are called poults and are born precocial, meaning they can start walking and moving around almost immediately after emerging from eggs.

Poults begin awkward small flights at about two weeks of age and are vulnerable during their early life to extreme weather, starvation, and predation. The family group of a hen and her poults is called a brood. You can support turkey management by reporting turkey broods in July and August. Turkey broods feed, roost, and loaf together until large flocks congregate in late autumn.

Food Habits

  • Invertebrates, which are especially important for poults
  • Fruit
  • Acorns and seeds
  • Herbaceous plants (leaves, roots, tubers)
  • Grains (corn, soybeans, wheat)

Viewing Tips

Wild turkeys like to roam areas that are a mix of trees and fields. Being active during the day can make them easier to spot than some wildlife, though they are still most often spotted feeding in fields in the morning or early evening. They enjoy acorns, so a stately neighborhood oak tree can be a good spot to stake out and watch for visiting turkeys once acorns start dropping. Turkeys startle easily, so be sure to keep a respectful distance. Binoculars can help you get a closer view, 8x32 or 8x42 are popular binocular strengths for bird watching and can be helpful for getting an eyeful of turkey beard, wattle, and snood. In spring, male turkeys can often be heard before they are seen as they gobble, often quite loudly, to attract females. Pigeon River Fish & Wildlife Area and Jackson-Washington State Forest can be great places to take a hike or drive to look or listen for wild turkeys.

Management and Control

Indiana DNR monitors wild turkey populations through several survey and index efforts, such as spring gobbling counts, fall Archer’s Index, and our annual turkey brood survey. Turkey reports can be found by visiting wildlife and fisheries reports. There’s a limited, regulated hunting season for wild turkey in both spring and fall.

Landowners wanting to improve their land to support wildlife such as wild turkeys can explore our landowner and wildlife habitat assistance programs. Having an abundance of adequate cover so hens can have secure locations for nests and robust invertebrate populations to feed poults is important for turkey population health.

Wild turkeys can occasionally cause problems, especially with their penchant for plants and seeds. They will raid gardens, roost around homes, and can be aggressive toward people and pets during mating season or if they feel threatened. Some tips to live successfully with turkeys include:

  • Do not feed turkeys, as this can cause them to approach people for food and result in safety concerns.
  • Clean up fallen birdseed around birdfeeders, which is an easy food source for turkeys.
  • Keep pets leashed or in a kennel with a secure top while outside to prevent negative encounters with all wildlife, including turkeys. Male turkeys have spurs, and all turkeys have strong wings that can injure pets if turkeys feel harassed or threatened.
  • If turkeys are raiding gardens, tall fences with additional obstacles such as crisscrossed clotheslines or shade cloth to make access over the top of the fence more challenging can deter them.
  • Scare tactics, such as predator decoys, mylar flagging, or noise machines can help make turkeys uncomfortable and want to relocate. Move objects frequently so birds do not become used to them.
  • Pick up fallen fruit, nuts, or acorns from trees and dispose of them.
  • Turkeys can be removed through legal hunting with the appropriate license during the regulated season or with a nuisance wild animal control permit outside of the season.

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