6 wacky facts about wild turkeys

A-male-wild-turkey-with-a-red-wattle-struts-for-females By RelentlessImages/Shutterstock

It’s time to talk turkeys—the wild ones, of course. Genetically, wild turkeys, found in most provinces, aren’t much different than their domestic cousins, says Josef Hamr, an adjunct professor with Laurentian University’s department of biology. “They could interbreed and produce viable offspring,” he says. But wild turkeys are better flyers, faster runners, and more adept at avoiding predators. Wild about turkey? Gobble up these factoids!

1. These birds can fly

And they’re pretty decent, at least for short bursts. Some can reach 100 km/h and remain airborne for up to 1.5 km. Flight ability allows them to roost high in trees at night to avoid ground predators. Domestic turkeys—bred for meat—are too heavy to get off the ground. “Domestic turkeys would have no chance of surviving in the wild,” says Hamr.

2. Only the males gobble

They do this most often in the spring, to announce their presence to females, or in response to other gobbling males. But both toms and hens make other noises: a short, soft purring sound, usually while on foot, and a cackle while flying up or down from a roost. They also yelp, and, of course, cluck.

3. They’re fast on foot

They can sprint up to 40 km/h thanks to powerful legs (and a much lighter body than a domestic bird). That’s nowhere near cheetah top speed, but it’s not far off Usain Bolt.

4. Toms have heads that change colour

“Not only the head, but also its appendages,” says Hamr. These include the pale blue or grey fleshy snood that hangs off the turkey’s beak and the (also fleshy) wattle, which hangs off the front of the neck. During breeding season, these features become engorged with blood, says Hamr. “And this changes their colour to bright red.”

5. Their baldness may help to keep them cool

Having a featherless head and neck allows the birds to better dissipate heat and regulate body temperature, according to some research. This suggests that a naked head may have evolved—at least in part—to allow wild turkeys (and other bald birds, such as vultures) to live in a variety of habitats, including those with warm climates.

6. Males and females have different poop

Huh? True, says Hamr, and it’s likely “because of gender differences in the internal anatomy of the cloaca—the common passage for reproductive and excretory functions.” Males produce elongated, sometimes J-shaped scat. Female scat is more of a popcorn-like blob.

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