Wild Turkey Biology
The wild turkey - essentially a streamlined version of its domestic counterpart - is a resilient, prolific and strikingly handsome bird. Black to blackish-bronze with white wing bars, blackish-brown tail feathers and a bluish-gray to red head (depending on the bird's emotional state), "toms" or male wild turkeys weigh about 16 to 24 pounds. They sport a hair-like "beard" which protrudes from the breast bone. Females, called hens, are smaller - about 9 to 12 pounds. Turkeys are promiscuous, and one tom may mate with several hens. In the Northeast, gobbling usually starts around mid-March, peaking in late April or early May. Hens mate several times during the season and start to lay eggs after the first mating. The nest is a shallow, leaf-lined depression on the ground, and the average clutch contains 12 to 15 eggs. Hatching occurs after an incubation period of 27 to 28 days, but only about 35 to 40 percent of the nests are successful - primarily due to adverse weather conditions or predation of the eggs or hen.
In Massachusetts broods usually appear about the first week of June. The young poults are active as soon as they hatch, and about 25 to 50 percent will survive until the fall. Predators such as foxes and goshawks may take a few young turkeys, and cold spring rains are also a hazard since the poorly-feathered young birds are easily chilled. Turkeys - except for poults, which feed heavily on insects - feed mainly on plant material, including acorns, nuts (especially hickory), grapes, skunk cabbage, barberry and other berries and tubers. During the winter, open springs and seeps are an important source of food.
In some suburban areas, there are a feral flocks of "pen-raised"
turkeys. These are turkeys whose ancestors have been raised in captivity
for generations. Although they look just like wild turkeys, they act
tame and can become pests. It is illegal to release or possess these
birds, but people sometimes do so in ignorance of the law. People should
not feed these birds, or any wild turkeys as it will alter their shyness
and interfere with their ability to find food on their own.