Have you ever looked up and saw an unusual sight of a flock of turkeys flying? If yes, what kind do you think it was; a domestic turkey or a wild turkey?
Since wild turkeys feed on the ground, there is a common misconception associated with them that they cannot fly.
Wild turkeys are fun if you look at how unique, different, and incredibly smart these birds are. They are relatively larger than domestic turkeys with slim necks and long legs.
For the longest time, turkeys have been the most hunted species and are most sought after because of their meat.
If you’re an avid birdwatcher and have enough knowledge about birds, then you must be no stranger to a turkey’s flying habits. Their broad wings and thin necks help them fly and cover quite a long distance, but they can’t fly that high.
In the 1930s, wild turkey’s habitat was destroyed due to deforestation and overhunting, likewise making them nearly extinct.
However, today there are more than seven million wild turkeys worldwide, and the population of the birds is increasing with time. They are spread throughout North America, from Canada all the way to Mexico.
Yes, wild turkeys can fly; in fact, these birds are incredibly unique flyers. Their broad wings and slim neck helps them fly as far as 400 meters from the ground. They can also fly down the mountains in hilly areas or woodlands.
Although wild turkeys like running more than they like flying, they can still fly; they can fly a little distance, especially at night, though they can’t go very high.
Domestic turkeys have a lighter, white color, whereas wild turkeys are rich brown with black feathers. In addition, domestic turkeys are larger than wild turkeys and hence, are unable to fly.
Traditional turkeys can often fly as compared to broad breast commercial white turkeys. However, domestic turkeys can’t fly. They also have difficulties in walking and running because of their large size.
Most of these birds are artificially inseminated because their size doesn’t allow them to copulate or reproduce naturally.
Wild turkeys are known for their powerful legs. Their legs help them run at high speeds, i.e., up to 25 miles per hour. Their highest speed in the distance is about 55 miles per hour.
On the other hand, domestic birds are heavier in weight, making them unable to fly, but they can run.
Wild turkeys fly for short bursts. When on land, wild turkeys are surprisingly fast, whereas when in the air, they can reach a speed of 97 kph (60 mph), and on the ground, they can reach a speed of 40 kph (25 mph).
A wild turkey is incredible at flying explosive short distances. It helps them to escape predators. They can hardly fly more than 100 yards, and well, this is enough to bring wild turkeys to safety.
Since wild turkeys feed on the ground, they are open to the risk of facing predators and hunters. As a result, they can either run fast or fly high to save themselves from the attacker in times of need.
Wild turkeys are a bigger fan of running than flying; you will mostly catch them running on the ground to catch their prey.
Once in the air, a turkey’s wings come to life. Wild turkeys get their flying power from their breast muscle; unlike the hind limbs for balance, the chest muscle vigors a turkey’s wings that help them fly high for more distance.
Wild turkeys feed on the land and roost on the trees. Hence, they need to fly up high because they need to reach the tree for roosting purposes at night time. However, they usually fly for short bursts, i.e., up to 55 mph.
Even though wild turkeys are heavier in weight, they are agile and much faster than their domesticated counterparts. However, wild turkeys can fly as high as 400 meters (a quarter-mile) beneath the canopy top if left in open woodland or grassland.
Wild turkeys roost on primary branches in trees that are at the height of 20 to 30 feet. They perch on this height as it helps them to foil predators. Wild turkeys use traditional roosting sites on each alternative night, but they also use different sites and move from one tree to another.
They select the largest trees so they can comfortably perch. Their flying abilities help them reach the roosting site within seconds.
Domesticated turkeys struggle with flying high or running fast because of their size. Like most domestic livestock, these domestic turkeys, too, are bred to produce protein through their meaty parts of the body.
If you have ever paid close attention to your holiday turkey, you must have seen this bred-in characteristic.
They produce the maximum amount of protein using their empty parts. On the other hand, wild turkeys have a sleek, thinner body structure, a wild nature, and can fly high with the coupled ability to run faster. They usually do so to escape attackers.
Another reason apart from being too fat, most domestic turkeys can’t fly because they don’t use their breast muscles much.
Wild turkeys get their flying power from their breast muscles. The breast muscles are for sustained uses, powering a turkey’s wings that help them fly high for longer distances.
This is why a domestic turkey, which you eat on holidays, does not have dark meat. Dark meat is muscle meat fed by blood. Since domestic turkeys don’t make much use of this muscle, it is white. At the same time, that of a wild turkey is darker.
For flying, whenever a flight is needed, wild turkeys use their powerful legs and breast muscles. Their legs help them launch into the air safely. If you are lucky enough to have seen a wild turkey take a flight, you must have noticed different methods and styles.
While some like to run first when escaping and then divert into the launch, others simply bend in a squat position, thrust, and fly high using their large wings. They can also launch their flight while standing or trotting.
A wild turkey’s wings are capable enough to take sudden rapid flights; they mostly sit in the flying or their “cupped” position, ready to fly off when need be.
This technique helps them get away from an attacker, hunter, or predator; just a burst of leg energy and flap of large wings.
Since wild turkeys feed on the land, they are commonly misunderstood for not flying up high. Busting this myth, these birds can soar for short bursts and can stay near the ground.
Many birders and people who have seen turkeys fly high reported that their flights extend for nothing more than 100 yards, especially in the heavily forested area or woodlands.
However, there are certain occasions when these birds do take lengthy flights. There have been times when wild turkeys flew for several hundred yards to cross large canyons when escaping predators or hunters.
Even though they sometimes fly on longer distances, this isn’t their mundane thing; soaring or going on lengthy flights isn’t a wild turkey’s thing.
You might be caught up on the idea of ‘if wild turkeys can make a good flight, they can maintain a good flight too’; however, these birds can only make a good flight; their flight time does not last too long.
To fly, a wild turkey’s body uses its own chemical, and the breast muscle cannot endure long flights, and the flight time is cut shorter. The chemical that turkeys need during the flight to maintain strength is glycogen, an energy carrier for the wild turkey.
Wild turkeys run or fly to save themselves from an attack or a predator. When these birds feel threatened, their first instinct is to run.
Although they can fly, they are better at running since they can only maintain their flight speed for about 400 meters before returning to the ground.
These birds spend most of their lives on their feet. This is why their body has a squashed shape, and their knees are pulled ahead with their legs splayed.
This helps them have the most strength in their legs since the circulation is the highest, likewise, more fuel for running.
Wild turkeys do know how to fly. Although most people thought they were flightless since they are mostly seen on the ground, unlike other birds, this myth got debunked when wild turkeys were spotted flying in the air.
These birds can fly fast; they can easily sustain their highest speed, i.e., 55 miles per hour, for a specified period. However, wild turkeys like being on the ground rather than in the air.
This has created a lot of trouble for them as they have become a clear hunting option for most people.
Wild Turkeys don’t just gobble, but they make a lot of different noises. Male turkeys make very interesting noises, from a cackle to purrs, yelp, and clucks.
Well, you can tell a wild turkey’s gender by looking at its droppings. A j-shaped dropping means a male, whereas a spiral-shaped dropping means a female. Also, the larger the diameter, the older the turkey and vice versa.
An adult mature wild turkey has around 5000 to 6000 feathers.
Not a lot of people know this, but turkeys are fast birds. Although these birds give off a lazy vibe, they can clock on foot for 18 miles in an hour and up to 50 miles per hour when flying.
Wild turkeys can also swim. They tuck in their wings closely, spread their tails, and kick when swimming.
There are five subspecies of wild turkey, including Eastern turkey, Osceola turkey, Rio Grande turkey, Merriam’s turkey, and Gould’s turkey.
Wild turkeys are beautiful animals that are often overlooked because of them being common. Since these birds like staying on the ground most of the time, they are commonly known as flightless birds.
However, in reality, wild turkeys are great flyers. They can fly to a distance of 400 meters at 50 miles per hour.
If you want to learn more about this bird, check this post for details about what a group of Turkeys is called and 16 other remarkable facts.
My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!
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