Wild Turkeys in Winter

Wild Turkeys in Winter (PDF)

Meleagris gallopavo sylvestris

To survive winter, their most critical time of year, wild turkeys need to find sufficient food during the day and protective roosts at night. As day breaks, each flock of wild turkeys glides down from its overnight roost, where it has been protected from predators and sheltered from wind and snow and ice, and begins its daily search for food.

Scratching down through the snow, turkeys find a wide variety of food on the ground, such as acorns, nuts and seeds. They will also climb low shrubs for frozen berries and nutritious buds.

A winter flock may consist of adult hens with their daughters of the year (jennies); juvenile males (jakes); or adult males (toms or gobblers). If food is particularly scarce, the individual flocks may group together. In spring, flocking behaviour changes when gobblers join the hens to form large groups in the mating season. In 2 to 3 weeks the breeding season begins and flocks change again. Each breeding flock has 2 or 3 adult gobblers and 5 to 15 hens. Only the dominant gobbler gets to mate with the hens. Other bunches of young jakes stay separate from the mating groups.

Hen turkeys seek out secluded spots to scrape out a depression in dead leaves or other vegetation on the ground. Here they lay from 4 to 17 buffy white eggs marked with tiny reddish spots. The downy chicks are able to follow the mother within a few hours of hatching. Foxes, bobcats and great horned owls may prey on nesting hens. Eggs may be eaten by foxes, bobcats, owls, minks, raccoons, crows and squirrels. Males do not provide parental care.

Wild turkeys disappeared from Ontario in the early 1900s due to habitat loss and hunting pressure. Originally they were probably never found farther east than Belleville, and there is no evidence that they inhabited the area around Kennebec Lake.

In 1984 wild-caught American birds were reintroduced; Ontario sent 50 moose to Michigan, 120 Hungarian partridge to New York State and 18 river otters divided between Missouri and Nebraska in exchange for 274 wild turkeys. In 1987 4,400 wild Ontario turkeys were trapped and transferred to 275 locations around the province.

Size range:
Length: 110-115 cm (43-45 in)
Wingspan: 125-144 cm (49-57 in)
Weight: 2.5-10.8 kg (6-24 lb)

Did you know?
The wild turkey is native to North America where six subspecies developed. They were an important food for N.A. First Peoples.
European explorers took wild turkeys from Mexico to Europe in the early 1500s. The Mexican subspecies, Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo, was successfully domesticated in Europe. English colonists brought them back with them when they settled on the Atlantic Coast!

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