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Wild Turkey Vocabulary

Glossary of Turkey Terms


Wild turkeys are unique and instantly recognizable birds, but can you talk turkey with this turkey vocabulary list? Each of these words applies well to these large game birds, and birders who better understand words about turkeys will better understand, identify and appreciate these unusual and fascinating birds.

Click on any term for a more detailed definition and photos.

1. Dimorphic

Describes a species where the two genders look markedly different. Male wild turkeys have much more elaborate features than females, with their larger wattles, broad tail fan and "beard" on the chest, and males are generally larger and heavier than females. Turkey hens are more camouflaged in order to better disguise the nest when incubating eggs.

2. Endemic

A species that is native to one relatively isolated area. Wild turkeys are endemic to North America and do not migrate, but can be nomadic within a limited range as they search for suitable food supplies. Domesticated turkeys have been introduced as game birds or agricultural poultry in many parts of the world, but wild turkeys are still unique to North America.

3. Game Bird

A bird that is often legally hunted for sport or food. Wild turkey hunts are popular in many areas, and these birds are especially prized for their meat. Hunting game birds is a method of population control, though in many areas farm-raised birds are also released for hunting periods to be sure there are birds available for hunters and that hunting does not overly diminish wild populations.

4. Gregarious

Describes birds that are sociable and readily gather in flocks for different activities, including foraging and roosting. Many birds are gregarious in winter or during migration, but wild turkeys will form flocks year-round, typically with one dominant male presiding over his females and assorted lesser males, often juvenile birds that have not yet established their own flocks.

5. Iridescent

Any color having a metallic, reflective sheen. Wild turkeys have iridescent feathers on their bodies, and males have more iridescence than females. The amount and brilliance of the color will depend on the feather position and light levels, and it can be difficult to see.

6. Jake / Jenny

Colloquial names for young wild turkeys that are beyond the hatchling stage but are not yet sexually mature. Many birds have specialized names for young birds, and a young male turkey is a jake while a young female turkey is a jenny, though both genders can be called poults. When the birds are adults, the males are called toms while the females are called hens.

7. Omnivorous

Describes a widely varied diet that regularly includes both plant and animal matter. Wild turkeys are opportunistic omnivores with the habit of trying many different foods, including nuts, fruit, plants, grain, mollusks, amphibians, insects and more. The exact diet of a wild turkey will vary based on its age and habitat, and the diet may change seasonally as different food sources become available.

8. Phasianidae

The scientific bird family classification that includes all Old World pheasants, grouse and similar game birds. Wild turkeys, though endemic to the New World, are most often included in the Phasianidae family because of their similarities to large game birds that settlers were most familiar with when the New World was first colonized.

9. Polygamous

Describes a reproductive arrangement where the male partner has multiple female partners simultaneously. Wild turkeys are strongly polygamous, and one male tom may have up to 20 or more hens in his harem. The dominant male may mate with multiple females each season, though females only lay one brood of eggs unless the first nest is lost or destroyed.

10. Rafter

The common name for a flock of wild turkeys. Many birds have unique names for flocks, and another name for a wild turkey flock is a gobble, appropriately enough named after the common call these birds will make, especially during the mating season. The generic word flock can apply to wild turkeys and any other birds.

11. Subspecies

A distinct group within a bird species that can be easily distinguished but is not considered scientifically unique enough to be classified as a separate species. Depending on how different populations are grouped and characterized, wild turkeys may have five or six subspecies, most often based along geographic lines, though each one does have several subtle physical differences.

12. Wattles

Fleshy, wrinkled folds of bare skin that hang from a bird's face or neck. Wild turkeys have large, colorful wattles, and males have larger, more colorful wattles than females. Depending on the bird's emotions, the wattles can change color from pink or red to white or blue, and the color change can happen in seconds. A male with larger, brighter wattles may be more dominant in the flock and could have more success attracting females to breed.

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