Common Name
WILD TURKEY - MERRIAM'S

Scientific Name
MELEAGRIS GALLOPAVO MERRIAMI

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Photo by Larry Fitzgerald
Photo Copyright Larry Fitzgerald

Merriam's wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo merriami, is a race of the wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo.

The wild turkey is the largest of Utah's game birds and is considered by many as the "trophy " species of upland game. Males reach a length of 48 inches and females 36 inches. The average weight of an adult male is about 18 pounds and females average about 10.5 pounds.

Its appearance is very similar to the domestic dark turkey, but it has longer legs and a more slender, streamlined body. Tips of the tail feathers are white to light tan. Upper tail coverts may be tipped in white or tan. Breast feathers of the male are tipped with black while those of the female are tipped with white or buff.

Typical habitat is open stands of ponderosa pine interspersed with aspen, grass meadows, and oak grading into pinyon pine and juniper.

Courtship activities begin in early spring. The gobbling of the tom serves as a challenge to other males and attracts females to his territory. Nests are usually located near brushy cover with a convenient escape route. An average of 10 to 11 eggs are laid. The incubation period is 28 days.

Grasses and sedges are important year-round food items. Pine nuts, acorns, weed seeds, and green vegetation are also important food items. Large quantities of insects, particularly grasshoppers, are eaten during the summer.

Wild turkeys are not known to have existed in Utah during early white settlement. However, historical and archeological evidence suggests that wild turkeys co-existed with Native Americans in Utah. Attempts to introduce the eastern wild turkey failed. Seven Merriam's turkeys were first planted in the LaSal Mountains of Grand County in 1952 from stock obtained from Colorado. Established populations now occur in Grand, San Juan, Beaver, Iron, Kane, Washington, Garfield, Piute, and Wayne counties. The first hunt in Utah was held in October of 1963.

Sources:

  • Text modified from: Rawley, E. V., W. J. Bailey, D. L. Mitchell, J. Roberson, and J. Leatham. 1996. Utah upland game. Publication number 63-12. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Salt Lake City.

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