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Differnece Between Wild & Domestic Turkeys
of the National Wild Turkey Federation
many people, when the word turkey is mentioned, Thanksgiving or hunting
immediately comes to mind. According to Webster’s Dictionary, however,
the word turkey means several things—a theatrical production that has failed,
three successive strikes in bowling, a stupid, foolish person and a large
North American bird that can be domestic or wild.
though the domestic turkey sometimes gets a bad rap, the wild turkey is
still one of the most famous birds in North America. At one time, Benjamin
Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter and mentioned that he thought the
wild turkey’s traits made it a more fitting national symbol than the bald
eagle to represent the United States.
are several differences that can be distinguished between wild and domestic
turkeys,” said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, National Wild Turkey Federation’s
Senior Vice President of Conservation Programs. “One difference is survival,
a wild turkey hen teaches her poults how to react to predators and other
dangers, as well as how to get food, social behavior, vocalization and
flocking together. A domestic turkey doesn’t have the opportunity to learn
these survival skills.”
differences between the two are easily recognized. Although very similar
in some aspects, the wild turkey is as distant from the domestic as an
athlete is from a couch potato.
turkeys (male) will respond with a squeaky gobble to almost any noise and
often stay in a vocal mood. Wild turkeys (male) have learned that too much
talking can call in things other than turkeys, like predators and hunters,
so they don’t gobble as often as a domestic. True skill is required to
consistently call in the elusive wild turkey gobbler. Domestic and wild
turkeys (female) will normally sound the same. They will yelp, cutt, purr,
turkeys are incapable of flying or even running very fast; they make easy
pickings for any predator in nature. Their neck skin, or wattles, are heavier.
Snoods, the finger-like appendage that hangs over the bill, are longer
and breasts much larger and broader. The domestic also possesses a temperament
suited to confinement.
turkeys are sleek, alert and built for speed and survival. Its senses are
sharpened through generations of living in a harsh, unforgiving environment.
A wild turkey that loses its caution could become a predator’s dinner.
This constant state of caution has made the wild turkey one of the toughest
game animals in the world to hunt or even photograph.
turkeys are normally found on poultry farms crammed together in pens with
other domestic turkeys feeding on corn and other poultry mixes.
turkeys are found throughout many forests and wooded areas all across North
America. They feed on food such as acorns, seeds, small insects and wild
the wild turkey is a pretty common sight across much of North America.
In the early 1900s, only about 30,000 wild turkeys remained nationwide.
Today, the number of wild turkeys now stands at 6.4 million birds as a
result of restoration efforts by wildlife agencies, the NWTF and its half-million
members. Trap and transfer programs, such as the NWTF’s Making Tracks program
remove wild turkeys from an area with a high population, and place them
in areas where there are fewer wild turkeys in suitable habitat.
the 1940s, wildlife agencies and individuals decided to raise domestic
turkeys and then release them into the wild, because at that time, they
didn’t have a reliable way to capture enough wild turkeys. It was quickly
discovered that restocking efforts with pen raised turkeys only serve to
feed predators and hinder population expansion.
possessing its cousin’s natural caution (and intelligence) is one reason
that has kept domestic turkeys from being part of any wild turkey restoration
efforts. Domestic turkeys can actually cause harm to the wild turkeys already
in a population. Domestic turkeys often carry diseases such as the Exotic
Newcastle Disease (END) that might infect a portion of the wild turkey
population, not to mention them passing on their tamed traits.
want to make sure END does not spread to wild turkey populations,” said
Kennamer. “Though it is primarily found in farm and domestic poultry, the
chance of infection in wild birds is still a concern to the NWTF.”
NWTF is dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation
of the North American hunting tradition. For more information about the
NWTF or about wild turkeys, call 1-800-THE-NWTF or visit the website at
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