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Do Wild Turkeys Travel Long Distances?

This Turkey Tuesday is about the spring shuffle and the old saying of “here today, gone tomorrow”. Wild turkeys are obviously mobile creatures and can travel long distances in short periods of time. They can also navigate through and over obstacles as they travel, but in general, research has shown that turkeys don’t exhibit the long-distance movements to reach breeding areas that you see in many other species. This lack of movement is why populations of turkeys from one area to the next show levels of genetic clustering, suggesting that although they’re capable of dispersing great distances and contributing to gene flow, they generally do not. That being said, turkeys can and do move enough to seemingly disappear from an area overnight – and these movements are typically during spring just before hens breed and nest. Interestingly, hens of all ages make these movements, not just youngsters! What these movements look like is shown in the 2nd and 3rd pictures. In the 2nd pic, you see a juvenile hen (hatched previous spring) that starts heading north about a mile one day, before trucking it nearly 4 miles the next day. In the 3rd pic, you see an adult hen start heading east for several miles, before covering several more miles during the next day of her journey. From a landowner standpoint, these movements show why sometimes you have turkeys early in spring and then you don’t – they could literally be miles down the road by the time you realize they’re gone. The take home is, in the turkey world the onset of breeding and nesting can mean that one day you’re seeing birds at a certain location, and the next day they’re nowhere to be seen.

Pic of tom by Stephen Spurlock

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