Male: 46-48" (116-122 cm), female: 36" (90-91 cm). Largest North American game bird. Featherless, blue-gray head with red wattles (larger in males). All dark with Iridescent reddish and bronzy cast; tail and rump tipped whitish; wings barred. Male has spurs and long dangling tuft of feathers in middle of breast.
Similar to domestic turkey gobble.
Native to eastern and southwestern U.S., Mexico, and southern Ontario. Extirpated or reduced populations in some of those areas have been re- introduced; also re-introduced widely outside of former range.
Feeds on seeds, nuts, acorns, fruits, grains, buds, and young grass blades. During summer, eats many insects; may also eat some small vertebrates (frogs, toads, snakes, etc.).
Nests in depression on ground. Usually forages on ground. Roosts in trees at night. Sexes usually form separate flocks in winter. Severe winters and/or lack of winter habitat are important limiting factors in many northern areas., In Massachusetts study, predation exerted greatest influence on productivity; in Minnesota study, winter conditions and resulting pre- breeding female condition were important factor. In southeaster Oklahoma study, mean seasonal home range for adult females were 225 ha (winter), 865 ha (spring), 780 ha (summer), and 459 ha (fall). In Colorado study, adult males moved average distance of 5.3 km from winter ranges to spring breeding areas, and sub-adult males moved average distance of 8.7 km; in spring, males moved about 1000 m between morning and evening roosts used on same day.
Female incubates average of 10-12 eggs for 27-28 days (in northeastern Colorado, most nests are initiated mid-April to mid-May). Hatching begins in May in southern range, usually early June in north. Young are tended by female; brood stay together until winter. Females first breed as yearlings. An Idaho study compared nest success and initiation rates between resident and introduced hens and found no significant difference.
Important State References:
Edelman, F.B. 1995. Ecology of Merriam's wild turkeys in west central Idaho. M.S. Thesis, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow. 168pp.