What’s the difference between a wild turkey and a domestic turkey?

Asked by Mrs. Palmer’s Class at Wapello Elementary School

Answered by Gregg Losinski
Retired IDFG Conservation Educator
Education & Communications Specialist for ESER

Wild Turkey

Because turkeys are a large, fast-growing bird they have always been a popular food source for humans. Given the fact that turkeys can lay easily over a dozen eggs at a time, in good conditions, their numbers can grow at an exponential rate quickly.

Wild turkeys are a much different critter than what you find in a domestic turkey operation today. Wild birds are very lean and muscular. A wild turkey is mostly all dark meat. Wild birds are quick on the ground, hence the phrase “Turkey Trot,” for a running race.

Wild birds are also capable of short bursts of flight to avoid predators and roost in trees at night.

Domestic Turkey

Anything that is called domestic has had much of the wildness bred out of it. Farm turkeys are kept tightly confined and have been bred to grow incredibly large breasts full of white meat. Domestic turkeys because of their size and lack of muscle are unable to fly and basically sit around a eat to gain weight. Because often thousands of birds are kept in a fairly small enclosure it becomes difficult for them to regulate their body temperatures to stay cool. That is why most large-scale operations use a variety of turkey that has been bred for all white feathers. This helps cut down on the amount of sunlight they absorb. In the wild, an all-white bird would stick out and be an easy target for predators.

Domestic Turkey production in USA for 2020 is about 229,000,000 birds!

Merriam’s Rio Grande Eastern

Turkeys are not native to Idaho. Three wild sub-species were introduced starting in 1961. In the early 1900’s there were less than 30,000 wild birds in America, now Idaho alone has more than that! Thanks to the game agencies and groups like the National Turkey Federation hunters we now have over 7 million! You can even find them along the Snake River above and below Idaho Falls.

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