As Thanksgiving approaches many of us have turkey on the brain. Did you know that Florida is home to two subspecies of wild turkey – the eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) and the Osceola or Florida wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo osceola)? Wild turkeys are woodland birds who make their homes in open forest and along forest edges. Turkeys are highly adaptable and can be found throughout the state.
Turkeys are extremely social and live together in flocks. While they are certainly capable of flight, turkeys prefer to conserve energy by walking. This mode of locomotion also allows them to spend time foraging for acorns and other seeds, insects, and fruit while they wander over several hundred acres in a single day. At night turkeys will roost in trees to avoid flightless predators.
Wild turkeys are a pleasure to observe, from a distance. They are intelligent, social animals and it can be fun to watch them interact with one another. As opportunistic foragers, it is not uncommon for wild turkeys to be found near residential areas, especially when neighborhoods are located adjacent to wooded areas.
If wild turkeys frequent your yard, it is important to allow them to stay wild by not feeding them. Wild turkeys are meant to move about large tracts of land foraging for food. When humans feed turkeys it encourages them to stay in one place which can lead to an accumulation of droppings and increases the likelihood that different flocks will intermingle. These two conditions (build up of droppings and intermingling of flocks) can lead to disease outbreaks. Additionally, feeding any wild animal can cause it to lose it’s natural fear of people and lead to them becoming pushy or aggressive in pursuit of more food. Turkeys, especially toms, are large animals (males can stand 3.5 feet tall and weigh 20 lbs. or more) with powerful wings and sharp spurs on their legs. Not only can human-fed turkeys become aggressive towards the hands that feed them, but they may also scratch and peck cars, leave droppings in undesired areas, and tear up landscaping.
If you do encounter an aggressive wild turkey in a residential area you can attempt to remind them that people are to be avoided by “hazing” them. Hazing is a method of scaring a wild animal without causing any actual physical harm. Methods of hazing include making loud noises, spraying water from a hose, opening an umbrella, allowing a dog to bark at them (on leash), or jumping up and down and yelling. Hazing is most effective if everyone in your neighborhood is on board with the plan and if who ever is feeding them stops doing so. If the aggressive behavior does not stop, or escalates, you can contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for assistance at 888.404.FWCC.