Wild Facts About Wild Turkeys

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Those odd birds at your Thanksgiving table are even wilder than you thought. Amuse your guests with some offbeat turkey facts.

Then walk off the meal at a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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where you may you spy wild turkeys strutting and displaying. Who knows? You might emerge looking less like a butterball yourself. (Just joking.)

Read on to learn some oddball turkey trivia and wild turkey hideouts.

Wild tom (male) turkeys parade with fanned tail feathers at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. A tom is also known as a gobbler.

 TURKEY FACT #1: Enough with gobble, gobble. Turkeys also cluck and purr

A pair of wild Rio Grande turkeys — a tom (left) and a hen — eye one another at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

TURKEY FACT #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.  

Young male turkeys known as jakes at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

TURKEY FACT #3: Feathers galore: An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers — count them!

A wild turkey's feathers look iridescent in sunlight near Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

TURKEY FACT #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.  

A wild turkey stretches its neck in response to a sound at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire.

TURKEY FACT #5: Young turkeys — called poults — scarf down insects like candy. Poults develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.

Hey, look at me. No, look at me. Two tom turkeys vie for hens’ attention at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois.

TURKEY FACT #6: They may look off-kilter — tilting their heads and staring at the sky — yet they’re fast. Turkeys can clock 18 miles per hour on foot and up to 50 miles per hour in flight.

Two jakes -- young male turkeys-- strut and walk at Sand Lake Wetland Management District.

TURKEY FACT #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. 

TURKEY FACT #8: In the early 1900s, wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction, with only about 200,000 left. Through conservation efforts over the past century, with funds derived from the Pittman-Robertson Act, and thanks to sportsmen and women, there are approximately 6.5 million wild birds in the United States today, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.

A wild turkey shows its wattle and caruncles at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. The wattle is a skin flap reaching from the beak to the neck. Caruncles are bumps of flesh that cover the birds’ necks and heads.

Turkey-rich refuges:

St Marks National Wildlife Refuge
To boost your chances of seeing turkeys, lower your car speed to a crawl  — “Turkeys are sensitive to the movement of vehicles,” says ranger David Moody — or get outand walk, slowly. Turkeys like the open terrain of the longleaf pine sandhill ecosystem along the Florida National Scenic Trail, almost 50 miles of which go through the refuge. $5 entrance fee.

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
Look for turkeys along 50 miles of gravel roads, including 6-mile-long Wildlife Drive. You might also see turkeys off Round Oak Juliette Road, a scenic paved byway. Or try one of the refuge’s five hiking trails. No entrance fee.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
The 1.7- mile Wild Turkey Trail leads through woods and offers a fine chance of seeing … you-know-whats. 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. 

Rio Grande wild turkeys in Wyoming

More turkey-rich refuges:

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
From the 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
Hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys hang out here. The North and South Auto Tour Loops are good places to spot some. Other good spots: along the Rio Viejo Trail, the John Taylor Memorial Trail or the bike trail on the east side service road of the Low Flow Conveyance Channel. 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. The road is open to cars now through February, and to hikers and cyclists year-round. Three other hiking trails are also available. No entrance fee.

Still more turkey-rich refuges:

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
Nine-mile Wildlife Drive passes woods and fields where you might spot turkeys, especially in mornings and late afternoons. Or walk any of five hiking trails along the drive. An observation tower in the Oxpen Unit offers exceptional birding and scenic views. No entrance fee.  

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Look for wild turkeys crossing Refuge Road as you drive in the main entrance. Raasch Trail is also a good bet for seeing wild turkeys. 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. 

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