Meleagris gallopavo

Order: Galliformes


Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, turkeys eat insects and a variety of wild vegetation and seed.
  • In captivity, they are fed pellets, fruits, vegetables, seeds, mealworms, and crickets.

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling


Potential Messaging

Acquisition Information


Comments from the Rating System

  • Natural Science Center of Greensboro: Was great until male reached sexual maturity. He then got very aggressive and had to be removed from programming. Females are better.
  • Buffalo Zoo: We use the Narragansett breed. Temperament depends on sex. Could be a better program animal if housed with conspecifics.
  • Philadelphia Zoo: Surprisingly good on programs if handled when young. Males will often strut while on program – the audience loves it!

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Wild turkeys inhabit almost all of the United States and northern Mexico. This species has been domesticated and can be found in farms across North America and Europe.

Physical Description

Feathers are white with bands of color (black and slate blue are two variations). The “wattle” is a red throat ornament, and the flap of skin over the back is called the “snood.” The “beard” is the brush of coarse hairs on the breast. The fleshy growth on the head and neck is called the “caruncle.”
Toms are 3.5 feet long with a 4.5 foot wingspan, and generally weighs 16 to 22 pounds. Hens, on the other hand, are 2.5 feet long with a 3.5 food wingspan, and weigh 10 to 12 pounds. Domestic turkeys weigh about twice as much as wild turkeys. The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds.

Life Cycle

Mating displays by toms are much like a peacock’s display – fanning the tail and puffing up their feathers. Commercial turkeys require artificial insemination to actually reproduce because their overly meaty breast presents an obstacle for natural mating. Hens lay up to 18 eggs and incubate them for 28 days. The eggs are tan with brown speckles, and are larger than chicken eggs. Hens care for their poults for up to one year after hatching.
Average lifespan is 10 years.


Turkeys have very good hearing and eyesight. They can fly short distances at up to 55 mph, but they are also very good runners, and can reach 20 mph on the ground. Young turkeys are more likely to fly. Domestic adults in particular are unable to fly more that a few feet high due to their large size.
Only males gobble; females make a clicking noise.

Threats and Conservation Status

Domestic turkeys are susceptible to many predators such as dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and bobcats. Wild turkeys are typically hunted by raccoons, foxes, large birds of prey, and snakes. Wild turkeys are plentiful and have no special conservation status. Some breeds of domestic turkey are quite rare.

Did you know…

  • 45 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million are eaten each Christmas, and 19 million are eaten each Easter.
  • Male turkeys are called “toms” or “gobblers;” females are “hens;” and chicks are “poults.”
  • Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the wild turkey the national bird of the United States instead of the bald eagle.
  • The bare skin on the throat and head of a turkey can change color from flat gray to striking shades of red, white, and blue when the bird becomes distressed or excited.




Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo