Toms sport bristle-like feathers that protrude from the chest and can grow to a length of more than 12 inches on older toms. Beards may be present on about 10% of the hens; however, they are thinner and shorter than those of adult males. Heads of gobblers (adult toms) are generally bare and blue with a hint of pink and red, but colors can change with the mood of the tom.
During mating season, the gobbler's crown swells and turns white and its wattles become large and bright red. Heads of hens are somewhat feathered with smaller, darker feathers extending up from the back of the neck. Legs of toms are longer than the hens and are equipped with spurs.
Wild Turkey's plumage is more iridescent than domestic turkeys, and their tail feathers are tipped with brown rather than the white found on tame birds. Wild Turkeys have keen eyesight, acute hearing, and are agile fliers, although they often walk or run from danger.
Did You Know....
- Turkeys can fly up to 60 miles per hour and a distance of 1 mile?
- First year birds have dark legs?
- Game farm strains of wild turkeys do not survive or reproduce well in the wild, and they introduce inferior breeding stock into natural populations?
- Footprints of toms can exceed 6 inches, whereas hen's footprints rarely exceed 4+ inches. The breast feathers of hens are buff or brown tipped; the tom's are tipped with a sharp band of black.
Habitat. Eastern Wild Turkeys generally require large tracts of mature hardwoods (especially nut producing species such as oak and beech) interspersed with stands of mature pine. They also require grassy openings and hay and pasture lands for raising their young.
Food habits. Turkeys feed on a wide variety of animal and plant materials such as insects, greens, fruits, berries, seeds, grains, and nuts. During winter, turkeys feed on bayberry fruits, sensitive fern spore heads, burdock seeds and other vegetation around spring-fed brooks and on bare edges of fields. In Maine, turkeys also depend on dairy farms for food to survive winter. Dairy farms provide silage corn and manure containing undigested corn that is either spread on fields or stockpiled for future spreading.
Reproduction. Wild Turkeys in Maine breed during April and May. Dominant toms do most of the breeding. Through elaborate strutting and gobbling, they try to attract and mate with as many hens as they can, which may be as many as 12 or more.
After breeding, hens confine themselves to nesting. They construct nests in shallow depressions on the ground at the base of a tree or stump, under a tangle of brush, or in dense herbaceous cover. One egg is laid each day for up to ten to twelve days. Eggs are incubated by the hen from 26 to 28 days before hatching. If left unguarded, eggs are vulnerable to predators such as crows, skunks, raccoons, and red squirrels, and incubating hens can fall prey to dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, fisher, and great horned owls. Poults usually leave the nest the day they are hatched. Hens and their broods frequent field edges and forest openings in search of insects, which provide protein poults need for rapid growth during their early development. After 5-6 weeks of age, young turkeys begin roosting in trees, thus greatly reducing their vulnerability to predators.
Movements. Hens and their poults join other poults and hens to form flocks of 6 - 25 birds (occasionally up to 50 birds) during late summer, fall, and winter. Adult toms generally remain loners, but small groups of 2 to 5 toms of mixed ages are commonly seen throughout the year except breeding season. Feeding turkeys can cover several miles in a day.
Population and distribution trends. Historically, wild turkeys existed in significant numbers in York and Cumberland Counties, and perhaps in lower numbers eastward to Hancock County. From the time of settlement until 1880, agricultural practices intensified until farmland comprised about 90% of York and Cumberland counties. The reduction in forest land and unrestricted hunting are believed to be the two most important factors leading to the extirpation of native wild turkeys in Maine in the early 1800s. Since 1880, many farms have been abandoned and the land has reverted back to forest. By 1970, only 15% of York and Cumberland Counties remained farmland. This reversion of thousands of acres of farmland to wooded habitat greatly enhanced prospects for reestablishing turkeys into their former range.
Information courtesy of http://www.maine.gov/ifw/