Merriam’s wild turkeys weigh between twelve and fifteen pounds. The male is slightly larger than the female, in most cases.
They have gray upperparts including red eyebrows and throat, lighter colored flanks, and dark bellies. The upper portion of the turkey’s neck has black stripes the tail feathers have horizontal stripes near the top edges.
The wild turkeys are endangered species. Their habitat is found in the Central and Southern United States in scattered grasslands, swamps, along river banks, large open areas, wooded areas, and abandoned fields.
It is their natural habitat, but they have also become accustomed to human habitat and can be found at feeders, turkey blinds, and along roadsides looking for seeds, corn and grit.
They are extremely territorial and should be trapped and removed from any area where they would disrupt other species. They can be found throughout the year except for the peak nesting season, which is January through March. Their population does fluctuate slightly, but is on average quite steady during years of normal weather patterns. Brutal cold winters in areas can have negative impact on their numbers.
The range of this wild bird varies with habitat. In the wild it inhabits swamps and marshes, forests, plains, hillsides, open fields, and rice terraces. They favor oak trees because of their wide distribution and rich soil. They have adapted well to their environment and are generally tolerant of humans and other animals. They breed in captivity and are often released into parks or into private ownership, usually following the death of a previous mate. Releasing them can benefit the population by allowing the remaining mothers to nest again and so start producing offspring.
While being wild, the turkey’s head weighs between ten and fifteen pounds. The tail, which is covered with a soft down like fur, is between two and three feet long. Their eye is larger than the other, and its shape resembles that of a small red or amber eye. Their beak is straight and thick, while the foot is webbed.
Unlike most wild turkeys, Merriam’s wild turkeys have dark brown hair rather than black. Their throats are yellowish and their beaks are large and bushy. Their eyes are dark gray, the upper part with a darker tone than the lower. Their legs and necks are either black, brown, or tan.
Because the turkey’s natural habitat is dense forest, they are able to hunt and consume a variety of wild foods. They enjoy worms, berries, nuts, clover, grasses, fruits, roots, seeds, and many other plants and insects. They have even learned to hunt and eat carrion. While on this diet, the turkey’s weight has been reduced by as much as 25 percent.
When the turkey’s natural habitat has been fully hunted and its numbers depleted, the turkey does not have much choice but to adapt to life in a captive environment. They will eat whatever food can be caught, but they usually prefer corn, beans, cheese, wheat, oats, mushrooms, and root crops. Captive turkeys are fed twice a day, about one inch of meat per pound, until they are finally released into the wild. On these first days, they will require nourishment from human food products, especially grains.
Since their arrival in the United States, Merriam’s wild turkeys have maintained their natural diet. Today, thanks to their careful harvesting, the number of these turkeys on the market is much lower than it was when they were first reintroduced to the United States. For this reason, they do not carry trans-genetic diseases that could cause them to become vulnerable to more serious problems. These turkeys also have an improved immune system due to their long exposure to nature and to the elements. Today, you may even see free roaming wild turkeys.