National Wildlife Refuge System

Eight Wild Facts About Wild Turkeys


Eight Wild Facts About Wild Turkeys
#6. That Funny-Looking Bird is Faster Than You

So you thought there was nothing to know about turkeys except whether you liked drumsticks or white meat. Think again.

Wild turkeys strut and display and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA. Photo: Copyright Bill Buchanan. Used with permission.
  1. Enough with gobble, gobble. Turkeys also cluck  and purr
  2. Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.  
  3. Feather-hanger: An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers – count them! – on its body.
  4. Tom turkeys aren’t the only ones that swagger and fan their tail feathers to woo mates and ward off rivals. Some hens strut, too.
  5. Crunchy treats. Young turkeys – poults – scarf down insects like candy. They develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.
  6. They may look off-kilter – tilting their heads and staring at the sky – yet they’re fast. Turkeys can clock more than 12 miles per hour.
  7. Move over, American bald eagle. Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol.  
  8. Wild turkeys are not hard to find. National wildlife refuges are great places to look –while you enjoy a stroll in nature and emerge looking less like a butterball yourself. Here are some favorite turkey hideouts:


St Marks National Wildlife Refuge
To boost your chances of seeing turkeys, get out of your car and walk. “Turkeys are sensitive to the movement of vehicles,” says Ranger David Moody. Wearing camo colors might help, too. The refuge permits bow hunting the first two weeks in November. Then it closes to hunting until December 13. Almost 50 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail go through the refuge. Turkeys like the open terrain of the longleaf pine sandhill ecosystem along the trail. $5 entrance fee.


Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
Look for turkeys along 50 miles of gravel road, including 5-mile-long Wildlife Drive.  You might also see them off Round Oak Juliette Road, a scenic (and paved) byway. Or try one of the refuge’s five hiking trails. No entrance fee.


Wild Turkey Trail — Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Easy to moderate 1.7- mile trail leads through woods and offers a fine chance of seeing wild turkeys. For more of a challenge, take the connecting 2.2-mile Rocky Bluff Trail. Entrance fee: $2 per vehicle.


Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Several short foot trails give you a chance to glimpse wild turkeys. You might also spy some along Wildlife Drive. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle. 


Hillside Trail and Long Meadow Lake Trail — Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
From the Bloomington visitor center, the half-mile Hillside Trail connects to the Long Meadow Lake Trail. Follow it around the floodplain wetland, keeping your eyes out for wild turkeys. No entrance fee. 


Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge has a “healthy population” of the skittish wild birds, says deputy manager Greg Dehmer. Look for them along 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive, two refuge hiking trails, and in prairie fields beside county roads that run through the refuge. No entrance fee.


Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
The North Auto Tour Loop is a good place to spot some of the hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys found here. An even better place is the Intermittent Auto Tour Road. Or try your luck on any of nine refuge foot trails. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle. 

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge  
Feeder Road takes you on a scenic 3.5-mile drive into the refuge, passing fields and grasslands that are favorite turkey hangouts. Double back to exit. Hikers can walk the road or sample five other hiking trails. No entrance fee.


Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
The 9-mile Wildlife Drive passes many woods and fields where you might spot turkeys, especially in mornings and late afternoons. Or lose the wheels and walk any of seven hiking trails along the drive. No entrance fee.


Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Look out for wild turkeys crossing Refuge Road as you drive in the main entrance. Pick from five refuge hiking trails: Raasch Trail is a good bet for seeing wild turkeys. There’s also a Wildlife Drive of about three miles. No entrance fee.

Refuge trails are open sunrise to sunset daily, even on Thanksgiving Day when refuge visitor centers will be closed.  Free trail maps are available outside the visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. For details on Refuge System trails, visit





Last updated: May 8, 2015