Species Information

About Turkeys

Wild turkeys have lived in most parts of Massachusetts since the time of the Colonial settlement. However, human development and hunting took their toll and by 1851 there were no turkeys left in Massachusetts.  Restoration attempts started around 1911 but it took many relocation attempts before the population was successfully restored in the late 1990s. Today you can find wild turkeys living in most parts of Massachusetts.

The turkeys found in Massachusetts have a rich, brown-shaded plumage with a metallic or iridescent sheen, and white and black bars on their primary wing feathers. Males, called toms, can stand up to 4 feet tall and weigh more than 20 pounds.  Females, called hens, are approximately half the size and weight of males.

Turkeys are social animals who live and feed together in flocks. They inhabit a wide range of habitats including forested, semi-forested and open habitat. Turkey habitat must have both trees and grasses for feeding, resting/roosting, and nesting reasons. Trees provide food (nuts, seeds, fruit, etc.,) resting areas, cover from predators, and a place to roost at night.  Hens with young will roost on the ground until the young are able to fly. Grasses are important for both adult and young because they provide food for adult turkeys and an environment where the young can find insects.

Nesting season starts in late March or early April, during which time the hens build their nests on the ground, usually in tall grasses in fields or the forest. The hens lay one egg a day until 10 - 12 eggs have been laid. The average incubation time is 28 days, and in late May or early June the eggs will hatch over a 24 to 36 hour period.

During the first 4 weeks of life, baby turkeys, called poults, are unable to fly and rely on their mother for protection. Hens hiss and ruffle their feathers to scare away predators and will only abandon the nest as a last option. When the poults are between 4 and 5 weeks old, they are able to fly 25 - 50 feet and begin to roost in trees with their mother. Turkeys learn from each other, usually by imitating older birds. Through this process they learn how to find food and how to navigate the boundaries of their home range.

Unlike the domestic turkey, wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour and run up to 25 miles per hour. They have several predators including humans, crows, snakes, skunks, raccoons, and opossums.  The average life span for a wild turkey is 3 to 4 years.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS AND SOLUTIONS

Wild turkeys are social birds who live in flocks, which are organized by "pecking order."  Sometimes turkeys believe humans are part of the "pecking order" and will treat them accordingly.  If a turkey views someone as dominant, they will act submissive or fearful.  If someone is viewed as being a subordinate, however, the turkey will try to bully him/her.  Turkeys may determine a person to be a female or a male, regardless of the person's true gender.  Those perceived to be male may be challenged by adult male turkeys or followed and called to by female turkeys.  Likewise, those perceived to be female may be courted by male turkeys.  

To prevent conflicts with turkeys:

  • Do not feed turkeys.  Whether intentional or not, feeding wild animals can cause them to act tame and may lead to bold or aggressive behavior.
  • Clean up bird feeder areas.  Birdseed can attract wild turkeys as well as other animals, so make sure you clean up spilt seed around bird feeders daily or use a feeder designed to keep seed off the ground. 
  • Do not be intimidated by a turkey. Aggressive or bold turkeys can be deterred by loud noises, spray from a water hose, a leashed dog, etc.
  • Protect your garden.  Turkeys looking for food in your garden can be humanely harassed by spray from a water hose, a leashed dog, and fencing that covers bulbs.  Installing a motion sensor on a garden hose will encourage turkeys to look for their next meal elsewhere.  Click here to go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell these attachments. 

  • Cover shiny/reflective objects during mating season.  Male turkeys will peck windows and car bumpers during the mating season because they see reflections of themselves and think that they're seeing a competing Tom.  Covering low windows and glass doors can help deter them from pecking the glass.  Rubbing soap on car bumpers to make them less shiny can also help.

MSPCA TURKEY FACT SHEET pdf