Important Bird Areas

Turkeys Thrive in North Carolina Thanks to Conservation Efforts

The wild turkey’s distinctive gobble can be heard across North Carolina thanks to conservation efforts over the past half century.

Adult Wild Turkey. Photo by by Steven Bullock.

Up until the 1960s, few turkeys roamed our fair state. Unregulated and heavy market hunting, rapid deforestation and habitat destruction depleted populations.

Thanks to live-trapping and relocating wild turkeys, we can now see these large birds in every nook of North Carolina. Today, over 260,000 birds call our forests home. Since 1953, 6,031 wild turkeys have been released on 358 restoration sites. Almost 75% of the birds have been relocated just since 1990.

Wild Turkey chick. Photo by Curtis Smalling.

Turkey Trivia:

  • Several hens and their broods may assemble in bands of more than 30 birds. Winter groups have been seen to known to exceed 200 birds.
  • Male birds have pointed growths known as spurs that they use when battling other males for mates.
  • So what exactly is a turkey’s snood?  Male, or tom, turkeys have a number of features that experts believe are intended to attract female turkeys (hens).  These include the familiar fleshy red wattles on its neck and throat as well as a fleshy mass over their beak known as a snood.  As turkeys are polygamous and happy to mate with as many hens as they can attract, a seems reasonable to conclude that a more spectacular wattle and snood will result in more breeding success.
  • A native of North America, the turkey is one of only two domesticated birds originating in the New World. The Muscovy Duck is the other.
  • Attempts to use game farm turkeys for reintroduction programs failed. In the 1940s, wild birds were caught and transported to new areas, where they quickly became established and flourished. These reintroductions helped Wild Turkey spread to 49 states. (Alaska is the only U.S. state without turkeys.)
  • The eastern wild turkey thrives with a mix of forested and open land habitats. Forested areas are used for cover, foraging, and for roosting in trees at night. Open land areas are used for foraging, mating, and brood rearing.

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