Most people have probably heard of both domestic turkeys and wild turkeys, though you may be surprised to find out that these are actually one and the same species. However, far fewer people are likely to have encountered turkeys in the wild than they are to have encountered them each year on their Thanksgiving table, and if you’ve ever seen a group of turkeys crossing the road in front of your car, you may not be likely to associate them with your favorite holiday meal.
While domestic turkeys and wild turkeys are the same species, domestic turkeys are raised specifically for their poultry and other uses while wild turkeys are able to take their chances in the open, though they still risk being hunted for their game meat. Because of the differences in their environments, domestic turkeys tend to reach sizes of almost double that of wild turkeys, though collectively they are the largest species of the Galliformes. The average adult male turkey (called a “tom”) weighs between 20 and 25 pounds, though males weighing in at over 30 pounds are not rare.
Wild turkeys have proven to be highly adaptable to most environments that provide both a dense plant community and a scattering of openings such as fields and marshes. Temperature doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue, and for this reason, wild turkeys can be found as far north as Michigan and as far south as Florida and even into Central America. In Florida, wild turkeys most enjoy the bald cypress swamps of south Florida and the hardwood hammocks of northern and central Florida.
While there are a few natural predators of wild turkeys in and around south Florida, such as panthers and great horned owls, human beings are, not surprisingly, the wild turkey’s greatest predator. And although wild turkeys are game hunted throughout Florida and much of the United States, this does not mean that they all go down without a fight. While not aggressive in most situations, adult turkeys can act aggressively towards humans in self-defense or when their habitat is threatened.
Surprisingly, wild turkeys have very powerful legs and can chase at up to 25 miles per hour, in addition to being powerful fliers. One of the major differences between domestic turkeys and wild turkeys, is that although they are the same species, only wild turkeys have retained the ability to fly. Domestic turkeys are bred to be meaty and fat, and the additional weight prevents them from taking flight. Additionally, wild turkeys have excellent eye sight that is estimated to be three times better than human eyesight, and wild turkeys, though omnivores, are excellent hunters by land or air.
For the possibility of seeing wild turkeys in their native environment, take an airboat ride through the Florida Everglades this summer. Not only can you see many of the Everglades’ winged and feathered residents from an airboat tour, but you can see many of the fish, lizards, and amphibians that make their home here too.