Wild turkey

Meleagris gallopavo Linnaeus, 1758

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

New Zealand status: Introduced

Conservation status: Introduced and Naturalised

Other names: feral turkey

Wild turkey. Male with 3 females. Near Muriwai, January 2009. Image © Peter Reese by Peter Reese

Wild turkey. Male with 3 females. Near Muriwai, January 2009. Image © Peter Reese by Peter Reese

A large, well-known domesticated farm bird. Feral turkey populations are widely established in rough farmland throughout New Zealand.

Identification

Turkeys are large, bulky birds with predominantly dull blackish-brown plumage. When seen at close range in good light, males have copper, greenish-gold and blackish-blue sheens on their feathers. The long tail feathers are barred brown with a blackish-brown subterminal band and pale brown terminal band. The exposed head skin is bare, with prominent blue and red wattles that are more brightly coloured when engorged during display. When displaying, males puff up their contour feathers and wing coverts, and hold their wings spread and their tail fanned. Females are smaller than males and have less iridescent sheen on their feathers, no leg spurs and their smaller facial wattles which are not as brightly coloured as those of the males. The juvenile plumage is streaked with light brown spots.

Voice: the characteristic loud turkey gobble call is given by males during the breeding season, in aggressive interactions and as a mate attraction call. Several other calls are also given, including a drumming call.

Similar species: adult female and immature wild turkeys may resemble helmeted guineafowl but have darker plumage and lack the bony casque on the head. They may also resemble adult female and immature common pheasants but have darker plumage and lack long tapering tail feathers.

Distribution and habitat

Turkeys were released into the wild or escaped from farmyards many times from the 1860s to the present. The earliest release recorded was on Kawau Island in the 1860s, and turkeys were feral in Hawke’s Bay by 1894. Their feral range has expanded since the 1970s, and they are now found in rough farmland with scattered trees throughout much of lowland North Island, the Marlborough Sounds, and at scattered eastern locations in the South Island. Turkeys are also feral on some large farmed islands including Waiheke, Great Barrier and Rakitu Islands.

Population

No population estimates. Feral turkeys are sparsely distributed, occurring in groups of tens of individuals from late summer to late winter. In the breeding season, smaller groups form comprising a dominant male and 4 - 5 females.

Threats and conservation

Many are killed by dogs. Chicks are likely to be taken by cats, ferrets, pukeko and swamp harriers.

Breeding

Males defend a harem of females during the breeding season. The female does all the incubation and chick-rearing, clucking to maintain contact with her brood. There is no information on breeding success from wild New Zealand populations.

Behaviour and ecology

Wild turkeys are wary and do not allow close approach. They feed in small flocks during the day, and roost on fence posts and in trees at night. Turkeys are more gregarious outside the breeding season, with females and young males forming larger flocks. Older males are often solitary.

Food

Turkeys are mainly herbivorous, eating seeds and fruits plus a few ground-dwelling invertebrates. Young chicks feed mainly on insects.

Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_(bird)

References

Druett, J. 1983. Exotic intruders: the introduction of plants and animals into New Zealand. Heinemann, Auckland.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Oliver, W.R.B. 1955. New Zealand birds. Reed, Wellington.

Robertson, C.J. R. (ed.) 1985. Reader’s Digest complete book of New Zealand birds. Reader’s Digest, Sydney.

Watola, G. 2008. The discovery of New Zealand’s birds. Arun Books, Orewa.

Recommended citation

Beauchamp, A.J. 2013. Wild turkey. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Wild turkey

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Mean egg dimensions (length)
62.8 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
44.9 mm
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun

Gould's wild turkey

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest description
Nest open leaf lined on the ground.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (mean)
8-15
Clutch size (min)
8
Clutch size (max)
15
Egg colour
Creamy buff with brown speckles
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
28 days
Nestling type
precocial
Nestling period (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown