The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a large gamebird, one of a number of species of turkey (Galliformes).
Adults have a bluish featherless small head, a red throat, long legs and a dark body. They have a long dark fan-shaped tail. Their wings are a glossy bronze. As with many other species of the Galliformes, they exhibit strong sexual dimorphism – males have red wattles on the throat and neck and are significantly larger than females.
Their breeding habitat is found in wooded areas, usually with clearings, across most of the United States and parts of southern Canada, where they are permanent residents. They nest on the ground at the bottom of a tree, shrub or in tall grass.
Male birds will display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails, inflating the wattles on their neck and drooping their wings. Males are polygamous, and they form territories that may contain as many as 5 hens.
The birds forage on the ground or climb shrubs to eat berries. They are omnivorous, eating acorns, seeds, berries, roots and insects, sometimes snakes, frogs or salamanders.
They are relatively weak fliers and prefer to escape on foot if possible. At night, they roost in trees for safety. They are capable of achieving speeds of 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) in flight.
Only the males “gobble”; the females cluck. The males also emit a low-pitched thumping sound. This bird was Benjamin Franklin’s preference as the national bird for the United States. It has been adopted as the official game bird of South Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma and Massachusetts.
It is the traditional main dish for the Thanksgiving holiday, which is held in November in the United States and October in Canada, but of course it is now normally replaced by the domesticated turkey. The Aztecs domesticated the southern Mexican form, M. g. gallopavo, one of the six subspecies.
The range and numbers of this bird had decreased at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and loss of habitat, and game officials made efforts to protect and encourage the breeding of the surviving wild population. As the wild turkey’s numbers rebounded in the 1980s and 1990s, hunting was legalized in most states.