wild turkeys in field
November 1, 2023

The wild turkey is the largest nesting bird in the Smoky Mountains. This bird is easily recognizable by its large, dark body, long feathers, and colorful face and neck. It’s not uncommon to see wild turkeys foraging along roads and in clearings throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here are a few fun facts about the wild turkey to keep in mind the next time you see one in the Smokies.

1. The Smoky Mountains Are Home to the Eastern Wild Turkey.

There are six subspecies of wild turkey that live in North America, including Eastern, Osceola, Ocellated, Rio Grande, Merriam, and Gould wild turkeys. The Smoky Mountains are home to the Eastern wild turkey. This subspecies has the strongest gobbles and longest beard of any of the other subspecies. It’s estimated that roughly 500 wild turkeys live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, though the exact number is unknown. The population is stable and healthy, and it appears to grow each year.

2. Wild Turkeys Can Fly.

wild turkey flying

Because the wild turkey spends much of its time feeding on the ground, many people think this large bird can’t fly. However, wild turkeys are actually skilled fliers. They have been known to fly up to 55 or 60 miles per hour in short bursts. They are also much more agile in flight than what their large appearance may suggest.

3. Wild Turkeys Sleep in Trees.

The wild turkey spends most of its time on the ground in search of food. At night, however, this large bird will fly up into a tree to sleep. Wild turkeys will usually roost at dusk and fly back down as the sun starts to rise. This is in part because they can’t see well at night and in part to protect themselves from predators.

4. The Wild Turkey Has Excellent Eyesight.

flock of wild turkeys looking around in clearing

The wild turkey might not be able to see as well at night, but this bird has excellent vision during the day. In fact, wild turkeys can see three times better than humans. These birds can also see in color unlike many other animals. Because of the shape of their heads and position of their eyes, their eyesight covers a 270-degrees field of vision, which is much more than that of a human.

5. Their Snoods Are for Mating.

The red, fleshy appendage that extends over a wild turkey’s beak is called a snood. Its purpose is to help females find a suitable mate. Female turkeys prefer males with longer snoods when searching for a mate. Snood length can also help predict the winner of a competition between two males.

6. The Wild Turkey Can Change Colors.

close up of wild turkey with blue head

You probably didn’t know that a wild turkey’s head can change colors. The color of their head reflects the turkey’s emotions. Head color can change from white to blue to red, depending on how calm or excited the animal is at that moment. More intense colors mean more intense emotions.

7. Both Males and Females Gobble.

Male turkeys, or toms, are more well-known for making the iconic gobble sound that’s associated with turkeys. Contrary to popular belief, female turkeys, or hens, can also gobble. However, hens are more likely to make a loud, sharp “tuk” noise that sounds somewhat similar to a chipmunk. Wild turkeys make other sounds, too, including purrs, yelps, and “kee-kees.”

Learn More About Birds in the Smoky Mountains

Now you know a few fun facts about the Smoky Mountain wild turkey. This is just one of the many species of birds that make their home in the Smoky Mountains. Discover more about the 10 most common Smoky Mountain birds that you’re likely to see when you visit the national park!