Wild Turkeys
March 15, 2006 7:25 AM   Subscribe

We have a family of turkeys that has lived in our neighborhood for the past three years. They are active summer through early fall and then are not seen until next year. They leave no tracks in the snow during the winter. The full family of twelve walked through our backyard yesterday. The are much bigger than they were last fall, obviously well fed, and we can now distinguish sexes in the family. How do turkeys in New England survive winter? How long does a turkey family stay together. Do flocks contain more than one family? What is a good source of information on wild turkeys as a social unit?
posted by Raybun to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
From a page on Wisconsin wild turkeys, the first result in this Google search:
How do turkeys survive?
Turkeys can remain in roosting areas for up to two weeks during especially severe weather and can lose up to forty percent of their body weight before dying of starvation. Deep, powdery snow is more of a problem than extremely cold weather as it limits the ability of turkeys to forage on the ground. Many areas of Wisconsin's turkey range have south-facing slopes or wind-swept fields that lose snow quickly, allowing turkeys to forage more easily. And, a Minnesota study has shown that substantial amounts of the waste corn remained in the fields throughout the winter. Winter habitat needs appeared to exert the greatest influence on turkey movements in the Midwest oak- hickory region, but there was no conclusive evidence to show that winter foods act in a limiting capacity. Turkeys are one of nature's opportunists, eating everything available including bits of vegetation, weed seeds, waste grain, and even the seeds hidden in the center of burdocks.
And, from another page on West Virginia wild turkeys, the sixth result:
Where do turkeys spend their nights in the winter and other seasons of the year? In severe winter weather turkeys will frequent conifer stands such as hemlock, spruce, and pines where the temperature and wind are more tolerable. During fair weather they frequently roost in hardwood knolls and the edges of hillside benches. These areas offer a good view of the surrounding area. Turkeys will change roost locations depending on where they stopped feeding for the day, but sometimes they will return to the same roost locations. I have seen roost sites with so many droppings underneath that they take on the appearance of a blackbird roost site. Last winter, a roosting area was located where broods roosted in the same conifer patch for neatly two months. The birds stayed because the snow was deep and they were being artificially fed by local residents.

As winter departs and spring approaches, the life cycle of the turkey begins to repeat itself. During the year turkeys may have ranged over more than 2,000 acres of woodlots and fields. Gobblers start gobbling and the large flocks break up again. Young birds again move more than adults. I know of one bird that moved 20 miles in the spring. During the next 12 months approximately half of the birds will not survive. Most that die will be eaten by predators. Even with this loss of birds, there are individual turkeys that have been known to live a long life in the wild. One banded turkey hen lived at least 8½ years and one gobbler lived 12½ years.
posted by deadfather at 8:22 AM on March 15, 2006

I had five turkeys in my yard just this morning...

According to Cornell's "All About Birds" Bird Guide, the males only hang around with the group long enough to attract a mate and fertilize the female's eggs. There's no male parental care. The females and their broods can all associate with each other, so there may be multiple hens with poults (young turkeys) in a group.

I also checked a couple of turkey hunting sites, and apparently they all separate out by sex and age during the winter. I had no idea that turkeys roost in trees.

This article on turkey behavior and social structure tells you most of what you want to know, although I could only read the Google cache.
posted by nekton at 8:31 AM on March 15, 2006

Our turkeys roost on our roof - and we do see tracks - huge ones! - in the snow. I feed the birds; the come to the ground feeders to peck at the corn & seed there, so our turkeys are fat, if not sassy. They wander through the neighborhood and walk down the road. In heavy snow, we see all four of them hunkered down in one spot, with their backs against the wind. If you didn't know what they were, you'd swear they were rocks. As said by others, they don't manage the deep snow particularly well.

Anyone know if the bird flu will wipe out our flock? They're nuisances, but I've come to enjoy them.
posted by clarkstonian at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2006

Anyone know if the bird flu will wipe out our flock?

H5N1 hasn't been confirmed in North American birds yet, but it probably will be very soon, as the spring bird migration is about to begin. As far as I know, though, there have been no reported cases of bird flu in turkeys yet, but that may be because they don't have turkeys in Southeast and Central Asia. But they're close enough to chickens genetically that I would assume they'd be at risk.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:04 PM on March 15, 2006

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior has a chapter on turkeys and their close relatives. It's a hefty book, so if you're not interested in buying it its probably available at the library.

Winter Food
In it, is is suggested that in winter wild turkeys "will seek nut-bearing trees for food, although they will eat waste grain in agricultural areas." (p. 237)

I know that in Ontario, I have found flocks of wild turkeys foraging in (abandoned) apple orchards.

Again, the Sibley Guide suggests that wild turkeys "require secure, elevated nocturnal roosts, usually in woodland." (p. 237)

Breeding & Territoriality
Wild turkeys are polygynous, meaning that a male mates with more than one female at a time and takes no part in incubation or brood-rearing (p. 239). That being said, after breeding season, the Sibley guide suggests that large family flocks form, consisting of several family groups, for the winter (p. 240).

Young male wild turkeys will remain with their mother for their first year (p. 240) but usually depart with their brothers when they become sexually mature.

Their sisters leave their mother during the first breeding season and disperse further then their brothers (p. 240).
posted by gavia at 1:07 PM on March 15, 2006

With the danger of going further off-topic here...

snip: H5N1 hasn't been confirmed in North American birds yet, but it probably will be very soon, as the spring bird migration is about to begin.

While it is a case of when and not if H5N1 appears in North America, its arrival will likely not be on the wings of migrating birds. Simply put, there aren't enough Europe-North America migrants to bring the flu to North America.

More likely scenario? H5N1 will arrive with the pet trade or poultry shipments.
posted by gavia at 1:16 PM on March 15, 2006

Bird flu in turkeys.

H5N1 in turkeys.

(Both in Europe.)
posted by sevenless at 1:21 PM on March 15, 2006

I bow before the masters of bird-flu-fu. *bows*

clarkstonian, it looks like you better enjoy the touching sight of that turkey family while you can.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:21 PM on March 15, 2006

So the turkeys will be toast. That's a shame; they're interesting to watch. Soon there won't be anything left but rats & roaches, & they won't be nearly so much fun to have roosting on the roof.
posted by clarkstonian at 12:56 PM on March 17, 2006

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