2017-11-16 / Community

Florida is home to two turkey subspecies

By Allyson Webb
Resource Manager
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Florida wild turkey Florida wild turkey As the sun broke on the horizon, a thick-bodied bird drifted down from the trees overhead. Six more birds followed. As they walked through the forest, one could see the occasional debris fly up from their powerful feet, clearing the way to better see berries, insects and other foods. A soft gobbling call broke the early morning quiet. It was a small flock of wild turkeys foraging.

The turkey has become an emblem of the Thanksgiving holiday. While it wasn’t on the menu at the first Thanksgiving, it became a staple by the 1800s. Today, wild turkeys are leaner and faster than their domesticated counterparts. Their speed is surprising: They can run up to 25 miles per hour and fly up to 55 miles per hour. For safety, hens (females) will form communal groups that include other hens and their poults (offspring). Toms also form groups that are governed by a strict hierarchy.

Florida is home to two subspecies of wild turkey, the eastern wild turkey and the Osceola or Florida wild turkey. The Osceola turkey was named for the famous Seminole leader Osceola. It was first described in 1890 and is smaller and darker than the eastern subspecies. They are a generalist species, which means they don’t have special needs or requirements for food or a particular type of vegetation for survival.

The turkey is a bird of the woodlands, preferring open forests and forest edges. To escape danger, they run away on their long legs or retreat to the cover of trees (where they also roost at night). Or when necessary, they can swim. They do this by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking.

During the spring, courtship occurs. The males will gobble to attract females and warn competing males. Then the display consists of strutting with fanned tails and lowered wings, all the while making nonvocal humming and chump sounds. Additionally, the skin on the male’s head turns bright blue and white, and the caruncles will swell and turn bright red.

The female will form a nest on the ground by scratching a shallow depression in the soil at the base of a tree or in thick shrubbery. Clutch sizes range from four to 17 eggs. The young are born highly mobile and are able to feed themselves soon after they hatch. It takes roughly two weeks for the poults to develop enough strength to fly up into trees to roost at night. Nests face threats from predators such as raccoons, opossums, rat snakes and other predators. As they mature, the turkeys become prey for eagles, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats and other creatures.

The sanctuary is open every day from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit corkscrew.audubon.org.

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