Turkeys at home in suburban New Canaan

Wild turkeys were once common denizens of Connecticut forests before European settlers came and transformed the landscape. As the trees were felled to make way for farms and pastures, the species gradually diminished. By the early 1800s, wild turkeys were virtually gone from our area.

In 1975, the State of Connecticut slowly began to reintroduce wild turkeys. Over the next 17 years, 365 of them were released in small flocks at 18 different locations. The efforts paid off, and the populations thrived. Today, wild turkeys can be found in all 169 Connecticut towns.

Wild turkeys are omnivores and opportunistic foragers. Their varied diet includes acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, seeds, fruits, corn, and insects. They are even known to catch frogs, newts, and small snakes. In winter, they rely heavily on acorns and other hardwood mast crops.

A sampling of winter mast for wild turkeys

A hen with poults photographed by Chris Schipper

Turkey mating season is in late March and early April. Males and females may mate with multiple partners, but only the females rear the young. They lay between 8 and 14 eggs, one per day. As soon as they hatch, the poults can hunt for their own food.  In two weeks, they can take short flights but aren’t able to truly fly until after a month or so. During this period, they stay close to their mom, who will do her best to protect them from hawks, foxes, and coyotes. For extra protection, the brood stays with their mom until she’s ready to mate again the following spring.

A hen basking in the sun at Livingston-Higley Preserve

Turkeys spend most of their time on the ground. When alarmed, they often flee on foot. Believe it or not, they can run up to 25 miles per hour! When danger is imminent, they take flight. With the exception of a hen with young poults, turkeys roost in the treetops at night.

Wild turkeys tend to flock together in winter. At dusk, they spread out to roost in several adjacent trees. At dawn they call to one another to determine where each is located. When they deem that the ground below is safe, they fly down one by one and reassemble as a flock.

As a woodland species, the turkey’s successful comeback is largely due to reforestation. Large swaths of second-growth mixed hardwood forests provide abundant food, shelter, and places to roost. The resurgent woodlands of New Canaan and protected open space once again offer a welcoming habitat for wild turkeys.