ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Thanksgiving is almost here! In honor of the holiday, here are some facts about wild turkeys, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Wild turkeys are native to North America. They can fly 40 to 50 miles per hour over short distances. Turkeys can swim but usually run or walk. They also have great hearing and eyesight.
New York is home to about 180,000 wild turkeys. That population has increased by six times since the 1970s. Turkeys can scratch through 4 to 6 inches of snow to find food during the winter.
Adult male turkeys, also called “toms” or “gobblers,” have red, blue, and white skin on their head during spring breeding. They have a long beard of hair-like feathers on their chests and spurs on their legs. Mature males are about 2.5 feet tall and weigh up to 25 pounds.
Female turkeys, also called hens, are smaller than toms and weigh 9 to 12 pounds. Hens have a rusty-brown body and a blue-gray head. Less than 10% have a beard, and less than 1% have spurs. While males make a gobbling noise, the hen makes a yelp or clucking noise.
The turkey breeding season begins in early April and continues through early June. During this time, the toms perform courtship displays such as strutting, fluffing their feathers, dragging their wings, and gobbling to attract hens. After mating, the hen goes off by herself to nest and lays 10 to 12 eggs over two weeks.
The eggs hatch after 28 days, usually in late May or early June. The young turkeys, called poults, can fly when they are about two to three weeks old.
The poults are preyed upon by mink, weasels, domestic dogs, coyotes, raccoons, and skunks. To defend against these predators, poults will scatter and hide in a frozen state until the mother gives the all-clear signal. The hen will also fake a broken wing to lead predators away from the poults. About 60% to 70% of poults die during their first four weeks.
Wild turkeys eat nuts, plants, roots, seeds, insects, snails, fruits, grains, and agriculture-based products such as waste grain or manure. During the winter, turkeys stop traveling as far, reduce their daily activities, and often form large flocks. Studies have shown that turkeys can live up to two weeks without food.
Predators of adult turkeys include foxes, bobcats, coyotes, and great-horned owls. Many hens are taken by predators while nesting. Turkeys can also die from starvation if there is more than six to eight inches of soft snow over five to six weeks.
Wild turkeys are legally protected as a game species in New York. There are highly regulated spring and fall turkey hunting seasons in the state. The spring season in May is designed to have little or no impact on the population. Only “bearded” birds are legal, which almost restricts the entire season to males.
The fall season is restricted to certain areas of the state. Both hens and toms may be taken during this season. The season length varies throughout the state, starting as early as October 1 and ending as late as mid-November. The fall season bag limit also varies in different areas of the state.