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Home > News & Blog > Wild Turkeys of the National Parks

Posted: November 25, 2020

“Wild Turkeys are a wildlife conservation success story. Due to habitat loss and hunting pressures, they became locally extinct throughout much of their historical range by the beginning of the 20th century. Natural reforestation and a reintroduction program have lead to them occurring in every state save Alaska at this time.”1

Wild Turkeys can be seen in almost every national park. They are a beautiful creature with biological ties to the most famous dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Look at those legs!!! We associate these birds mostly with our traditions celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States, but did you know, these birds were most likely not served in the first Thanksgiving? Instead, most likely goose or duck was the wildfowl of choice.2

“… Bald Eagle…is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…[he] is too lazy to fish for himself. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird … He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” 

Benjamin Franklin in a letter to his daughter in 1784

Below are some fun facts we found to share with you about Wild Turkeys!

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Wild Turkeys can Fly!

Yes, that’s right… unlike their domesticated cousins, Wild Turkeys are able to fly and have been clocked at 55mph in flight. They have ground speed as well, up to 25mph when on the run. Though they have great flight speed, they make a bad thing to hit in mid-flight with your vehicle, as seen in the picture below. Some might say they are the wrecking ball of birds.1

Car hit by Wild Turkey
Car hit by Wild Turkey

Wild Turkeys and Their Nicknames

Turkey’s have such fun nicknames. Here’s just a few based on sex and age1:

  • Gobbler (breeding adult male – females never gobble)
  • Tom (adult male)
  • Jake (young male)
  • Hen (adult female).
  • Jenny (young female)
  • Chicks or Poults (the little cute ones)

Their body parts have some fun names too! Snoods and Wattles are the fleshy appendages on a male Turkey’s head and they’re mostly in prominence during breeding season.1

A wild turkey in the prairie grassland
Wild turkeys are some of the largest birds found in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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Wild Turkeys and Tryptophan

It’s true, turkey meat contains a chemical called Tryptophan, which is a component of the brain chemical serotonin. This leads to an increase in Melatonin that helps you sleep. But… turkey has roughly the same amount of Tryptophan as other birds, like chicken. So when you’re feeling sleepy after your Thanksgiving meal, it most likely is due to all the other foods you are consuming, which generally have much higher amounts of Tryptophan. All those carbohydrates we “must have” with dinner are scientifically the reason we all must nap after this thankful meal, not to mention the wine or beer we might enjoy as well.1

Two large wild turkeys walk through a field. One has his tail feathers spread.
Two large wild turkeys walk through a field. One has his tail feathers spread.

Imagine the Wild Turkey as Our National Bird… We’ll Wait…

“One of the favorite myths about Benjamin Franklin is that he advocated for the Wild Turkey to become our national symbol over the Bald Eagle. As the saying goes – why let facts get in the way of a good story?”1

“Like all good myths, it is partially drawn from truth. It all stems from a letter in which he wrote to his daughter in 1784. This private letter, never meant for a wider audience, expounds upon a wide range of topics – including the seal of a hereditary club called the Society of the Cincinnati – which to Franklin resembled a Turkey more than an Eagle. From here he goes on to lament the choice of the Eagle as the national symbol (chosen just the prior year in 1783) because of its moral flaws, comparing them to what he considers the good traits of a Turkey (see inset).”1

“So while he does appear to like Turkeys better, he never publicly advocated for Turkeys to be the national symbol and was only trying to amuse his daughter in a private letter.”1


Wild Turkeys are amazing in many ways. So when you are out discovering our parks, make sure to keep an eye out for these beautiful creatures. Maybe even listen for them. Until you can get out and see them in person, here’s a fun video of Eastern Wild Turkeys strutting in the wild, including a Tom Turkey.

We got some of the above information from the following:
1: NETN Species Spotlight – Wild Turkey
2: What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving?


Find a U.S. National Park easily on our National Parks Page.


Check out these recent posts from Discover Our Parks:

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