Turkeys: Meleagris gallopavo
The Florida wild turkey is best distinguished from the eastern
subspecies, which it closely resembles, by its darker wing
feathers. The white bars on the primary wing feathers are narrower
than the black bars and are irregular or broken.
Florida is home to the
Florida wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo osceola) and
the eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris).
The Florida wild turkey is found only in peninsular Florida (figure
one). North of the peninsula it intergrades with the eastern
Wild turkey hens in Florida typically begin laying in late March
or early April. Clutches average 10.3 eggs and take approximately
12-13 days to lay. Eggs hatch after 25-26 days of continuous
incubation. Poults will roost on the ground for the first 14 days
after hatching. During this period, approximately 70 percent
mortality occurs, primarily through predation.
Only 45-50 percent of wild turkey nests successfully hatch. Most
are lost to predators, although occasionally nests are lost by
other means (agricultural activities, flooding, etc.). However,
hens often renest if their initial nest is destroyed. Major wild
turkey nest predators include raccoons, striped and spotted skunks. Other nest predators
gray foxes, coyotes and domestic
Predators are a natural element in a wild turkey's environment
and attempts to control predators are usually ineffective and
economically unfeasible. Efforts are better spent developing and
maintaining good quality brood habitat which is often the limiting
factor on wild turkey populations. Good brood habitat has 1-3 foot
vegetation (grasses, weeds, etc.) open enough to provide unimpeded
movement for young poults, yet dense enough to provide cover from
predators. Good brood habitat also provides seeds, insects, and
succulent growth for poults to feed upon.
Diseases are also a natural element in a wild turkey's
environment. However, most disease outbreaks involve only a few
turkeys and typically have little impact on the population as a
whole. A common disease among wild turkeys in Florida is avian pox
or "sore head." Avian pox is caused by a virus that infects most
turkeys in Florida and is usually transmitted via mosquito and
other blood-feeding insect bites. Symptoms include lesions, or
"sores" on unfeathered areas (head, feet, legs, eyelids, etc.)
and/or in the mouth and upper respiratory tract. Mosquitoes can
transmit this virus for up to 4 weeks after feeding on an infected
turkey. Avian pox likely causes or contributes to the death of some
wild turkeys each year, but not in significant numbers.
Occasionally, landowners express concern that there may be "too
many turkeys" on their property. This is motivated by anxiety that
there is a direct link between wild turkey population density and
disease outbreaks. Disease spread is indeed related to population
density for many animal populations, but there is little evidence
that this relationship occurs in wild turkey populations. This may
be due, in part, to the social nature of wild turkeys. They are
gregarious animals and exhibit flocking behavior regardless of
density (i.e., individual to individual contact occurs whether
there are many wild turkeys or only a few). Therefore, there is
little reason to harvest wild turkeys for the purpose of
controlling or preventing disease outbreaks.
Concerns have also been expressed over sex ratios in wild turkey
populations. Most people are familiar with the need to maintain a
sex ratio "balance" in deer herds. As a deer herd increases to the
habitat's carrying capacity it begins to degrade the habitat.
Basically, deer density affects habitat quality, reproductive
rates, and health of the herd.
Wild turkey populations, however, function differently. Their
densities are not known to affect habitat quality, reproductive
rates, or health of the flock. Approximately 30-45 percent of a
turkey population each fall is composed of young and, in a stable
population, about that many adults die each year. Thus, the
population replaces itself every 3 or 4 years. Sex ratios of young
wild turkeys remain approximately 50:50 regardless of habitat
conditions or population densities. If an imbalanced sex ratio does
occur, it should pose no serious population problem due to the
continuous and relatively rapid population turnover rate.
Hen harvest to reduce population levels is unnecessary and can
be detrimental to the population as a whole. While areas with good
turkey populations can withstand limited amounts of hen harvest
without impacting the population, the number of turkeys available
for harvest is closely linked to that year's reproduction. During
years with good reproduction, a higher number of turkeys can be
harvested with no adverse impacts on the population. However,
during years with poor reproduction, there are fewer young
available to be harvested and hen harvest would consist of adult
birds, which could adversely impact the population since adult hens
are more successful in raising offspring. Moreover, to successfully
implement hen harvest would require annual turkey population
surveys, which are difficult to conduct adequately, are labor
intensive, and costly, making such a program unfeasible, at least
on a large scale. Further, since turkeys are not known to
over-populate and do not damage their habitat, there is no
biological justification for pursuing hen harvest to alleviate such
perceived problems. Generally, individuals with areas supporting
large turkey populations are fortunate and should not be overly
concerned with an abundant population.
If you have any questions regarding turkey management, contact
the FWC regional
office nearest you. You may also e-mail the
FWC or call at 850-488-4676.
Wildlife Viewing Information
An adult male wild turkey is heavy-bodied and larger than the
female. The skin on its featherless head is pinkish-red with red
caruncles (wattles) on its throat and neck, a dark beard on its
breast and dark brown or bronze iridescent feathers. When the male
is excited, during courtship for example, the skin on its head
turns bright blue and white, and the caruncles become swollen and
turn bright red. The female is slimmer and duller, with a blue-gray
head and neck that lacks the prominent red caruncles of males.
Females usually do not have a beard, but if one does, the beard is
much thinner and smaller than on males. During courtship, the male
struts, fans out its tail and gobbles. The female builds a nest on
the ground by scratching out a shallow depression hidden in taller
brush or beneath a shrub, and lines it with grass and dead
Turkeys are powerful fliers, especially for short distances.
Their wings are designed for short, fast flight, but by alternating
gliding and flapping, they can cover a mile rather easily. Speeds
of up to 55 mph have been observed. To conserve energy, however,
turkeys primarily walk. They spend much time on the ground, hunting
for acorns, seeds, fruits, insects, leaves, and small vertebrates.
Turkeys are wary and will run away or fly to a tree to escape
danger. They prefer open forests and forest edges and occur
throughout Florida in suitable habitat.