- With five different species native to the U.S., turkeys are a popular game bird.
- Wild turkeys are omnivores that eat a variety of foods from grasses to nuts to small reptiles.
- Almost all the states have at least some turkey populations, with the only main exception being Alaska.
Wild turkeys are one of the most popular game birds in the country. Many hunters look forward to hunting these large, elusive birds every year. How many wild turkeys are there in the United States? We did the research to bring you the facts.
Meet the Wild Turkey
There are five species of turkey native to the U.S.:
- Eastern turkey
- Osceola turkey
- Merriam’s turkey
- Rio Grande turkey
- Gould’s turkey
- Ocellated turkey.
Many people enjoy eating domestic turkeys. Those who hunt wild turkeys say they taste better than their farm-raised counterparts. Their intelligence makes them difficult to hunt, which is another reason some people enjoy the challenge of hunting them.
Where Do Wild Turkeys Live?
Wild turkeys are mostly found in open forests that have cleared areas. In the south, they are found among pines, magnolias, beeches, live oaks, pecans, elms, cottonwoods, or tupelos. In other parts of the country, you can find them among the mountain laurels, huckleberries, greenbriers, and willows. Turkeys are excellent at camouflaging themselves in leafy trees.
RELATED: How long do turkeys live?
What Do Wild Turkeys Eat?
They are omnivores who eat a large variety of things. Here are some things wild turkeys enjoy:
- Fresh plant matter, including buds, roots, and bulbs
- Tender grasses
- Leaves and shoots
- Nuts, including acorns, beechnuts, and hickories
- Small fruits like crabapples and berries
- Worms and slugs
- Lizards and other small reptiles.
What Is Their Population in the United States?
There are 6 million to 7 million wild turkeys, and they live in every state except Alaska.
Like the bald eagle and the wolf, the wild turkey is an animal that came back from the brink of extinction.
Wild turkeys are a major conservation success story. Turkeys were once abundant in North America. The birds were so widespread and populous that Benjamin Franklin proposed naming the wild turkey the national animal of the United States. Hunting and deforestation almost caused the birds to go extinct by the early part of the 20th century. By the 1970s, wild turkeys were on the point of disappearing entirely from the North American landscape.
In 1972, a group of hunters and wildlife conservationists formed the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). The federation’s goal was to preserve habitat, conserve remaining populations of turkeys, and reintroduce breeding turkeys to their former territories.
The NWTF also employs hunting as a means of controlling turkey populations. Like any species, turkeys can be damaging if they outgrow the local ecosystem’s ability to support them. Controlled hunting and habitat preservation allowed bird populations to increase.
Wild Turkey Population by State
There are no wild turkeys in Alaska. People occasionally claim to see them there, but the state Department of Fish and Game has not confirmed any sightings of the birds.
Colorado: 30,000 to 35,000
Connecticut: 34,000 to 40,000
Florida: 100,000 to 700,000
Georgia: 250,000 to 300,000
Wild turkeys are not native to Hawaii, but a small number of turkeys were introduced to Oahu several years ago. The introduced birds are healthy, but exact numbers are not known.
Kentucky: 250,000 to 300,000
Massachusetts: 30,000 to 35,000
New Hampshire: 50,000
New Jersey: 20,000 to 23,000
New Mexico: 15,000 to 20,000
New York: 160,000
North Carolina: 270,000
North Dakota: 22,000
Ohio: 700,000 to 150,000
Rhode Island: 4,000 to 5,000
South Carolina: 100,000
South Dakota: 50,000
Utah: 25,000 to 35,000
Virginia: 170,000 to 190,000
West Virginia: 100,350
Want to keep reading? Try one of these great resources next!
Do Turkeys Make Good Pets? – Thinking about getting a pet turkey? Read this first!
Male vs. Female Turkeys: Spotting the Difference – Learn all about the differences between male and female turkeys.
10 Incredible Turkey Facts – Check out these ten amazing facts about turkeys. They might surprise you!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Jens_Lambert_Photography
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Where can you see wild turkeys?
If you’re not interested in hunting them but want to see wild turkeys live, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends these wildlife refuges that have become favorite turkey hangouts.
- Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
- Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota
- Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico
- Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in New York
- Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina
- Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Texas
What does wild turkey meat taste like?
Most people say it tastes like the dark meat of domestic turkeys. A wild turkey’s breast is much smaller than a domestic turkey’s, so you get a more intense flavor and some gaminess. The methods of cooking are also slightly different. Since it is drier than a domestic turkey, it shouldn’t be roasted for hours like a domestic turkey.
Are wild turkeys aggressive?
They can be. Wild turkeys occasionally enter human habitations, especially near farms and orchards. If they meet with humans or other intruders during the breeding season, they sometimes react by charging and chasing the human. They will rarely take on an adult, but they might chase children or small pets. They won’t cause serious damage, however, and will run away if they see dogs or other large animals.
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