The wild turkey
is the largest game bird in the United States. Though wild turkey populations decreased with overhunting in the late 1800s, translocation of birds has helped to re-establish turkeys throughout much of their native range. Transplants have occurred in New Mexico since 1939 to reintroduce turkeys to their native historic range, and to improve genetics in isolated population areas.
Transplants of New Mexico Wild Turkey 1939-2008
Male turkeys are well known for their spring courtship displays. Males will gobble to attract females and strut with their tail fanned. Turkeys have excellent eyesight and hearing, and are extremely wary. They spend most of the daylight hours on ground, but roost in trees at night. The majority of turkey travel is by walking or running, but they will make short flights when startled.
The main components of suitable turkey habitat include water, roost sites, nest sites, and summer/brood areas. In New Mexico, free water is essential for turkey survival since vegetation may not be able to meet moisture requirements. Turkeys are often found in forested areas interspersed with edges and fields. Turkeys use mature trees for roosting. Typical roost tree are 14+ inches in diameter, and have branches parallel to the ground that are spaced at least 18 inches apart. Turkeys are ground nesters, and will scratch a shallow depression on the ground to use as a nest site. Nests are often located in dense vegetation consisting of grass, fallen leaves, shrubs, or at the base of a tree. A turkey diet varies between and throughout years depending on forage availability. Some food options include grass leaves and seeds, forbs, pine nuts, juniper berries, acorns, invertebrates, and cultivated crops.
New Mexico has three sub-species of wild turkey: Merriam’s, Rio Grande, and Gould’s. The specific habitat types vary by wild turkey subspecies. The subspecies distribution can be found here: New Mexico Turkey Subspecies Distribution Map.