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Male turkey

A male turkey, on the left, sporting its “beard.”

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

A large number of domestic turkeys met their end preparing for this week’s Thanksgiving. However, wild turkeys survive in Elko County.

Scott Roberts is a game biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. It seems the place to look for wild turkeys is near the mouth of Lamoille Canyon, although it is difficult to find them since these turkeys spend most of their time along the creek on private land. Other places where they hang out is Clover Valley, around Austin and Battle Mountain.

These birds are introductions to the Elko area. No turkeys lived here before European settlement occurred. Six subspecies of wild turkeys are found in North America.

The birds in the Elko area are Rio Grande turkeys introduced from Texas. The birds around Austin are Mirriam turkeys from Idaho. Next summer, more birds will be brought in from Idaho to Austin as part of an animal exchange where pronghorn antelope were captured here and sent to Idaho.

Scott says turkeys are doing OK here, but their populations are limited by our having no large agricultural areas and no mast crops like acorns, such as found in other areas of North America. Wild turkeys are a game species, with a hunting season in April and May of each year. Only “bearded” males can be taken.

This bearded turkey needs some explanation. A male turkey, or gobbler, has hair-like bristles growing from the middle of its chest, (a few hens also have beards). These specialized bristles are feathers called meso filoplumes. They can be quite long, and can touch the ground, although feeding tends to wear them down. Of course, male turkeys are called gobblers since only they make the gobbling sound.

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This brings up the other eternal question about turkey flight. Yes, they can fly, and actually quite fast, going 50 mph in short bursts of about 100 yards. They routinely fly into trees, preferring to sleep perched in trees, safe from predators like coyotes, foxes and raccoons.

Turkeys are not typically seen soaring around the sky since they feed on the ground, eating grasses, seeds, acorns, nuts, berries and small insects. On the ground they can run up to 25 mph. Part of the confusion regarding their flight comes from the domestic turkeys’ inability to fly. They are bred to be heavy birds with larger, broader, heavier breasts.

No doubt the reader has often wondered if they can tell the sex of a wild turkey from their droppings. Yes, they can. Straight, long, J-shaped stools come from a male. More spiral droppings come from a female, so there you go.


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