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Wild Turkey

Massachusetts State Game Bird

Wild turkey (Melagris gallopavo); photo by Len Blumin on Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution / no derivative works).

Official State Game Bird of Massachusetts

The wild turkey was designated the official state game bird of Massachusetts in 1991 (the state bird is black-capped chickadee, adopted in 1941). The wild turkey is also a state symbol of Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.  All State Birds

Eastern Wild Turkey Facts

A true native American, the eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) is the largest and most widely distributed of the six recognized subspecies of wild turkey in North America. The male (or Tom) can grow up to four feet tall and weigh well over 20 pounds. Hens may be almost as tall, but usually weigh no more than 12-14 pounds.

Wild turkeys are unique, resilient, and prolific. Male turkeys strive to mate with many females. Toms begin their breeding displays in early spring - strutting proudly for the hens with fanned tail and fluffed feathers. The Toms' head turns a bright red during this mating display.

Toms have nothing to do with the poults (baby turkeys), leaving all nesting and rearing chores to the female. A turkey hen lays 9-12 eggs in a shallow nest where she incubates her clutch for about 28 days. She then leads her newly hatched brood to forage for insects, berries and seeds.

Native Americans enjoyed an abundance of turkeys for thousands of years before settlers arrived in the New World, although they generally avoided eating turkey, regarding it as "starvation food" (believing that turkey was fit to hunt only by children, women, and Europeans). Native Americans valued turkeys more for their feathers and as spiritual symbols.

By the early 1900's wild turkeys had all but disappeared - a result of commercial harvesting and habitat destruction. Fortunately, conservation and wildlife organizations intervened, and the wild turkey made a dramatic recovery - today 6.4 million wild turkeys roam the lower 48 states.