Wild Turkey

Scientific Name: Meleagris gallopavo
Classification: Big Game
Abundance: Common throughout state

Species Profile (pdf)

 
 
 

Wildlife Commission  Asks
for Public Help Reporting
Wild  Turkey Observations

 

When early European settlers arrived in America turkeys were plentiful in North Carolina and were probably found throughout the entire state. By the turn of the century, however, few turkeys remained.

The decline was primarily due to unregulated and heavy market hunting, rapid deforestation and habitat destruction throughout the state. This decline continued into the 1960s.

Turkeys are once again common in North Carolina, thanks to a restoration program implemented by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission that involved live-trapping and relocating wild turkeys from sites in North Carolina and other states to areas in the state where the bird had previously disappeared.

The male eastern wild turkey has dark plumage with striking bronze, copper and green iridescent colors. On the inside of their legs, males have pointed growths known as spurs that they use when battling other males for mates.

Males also have a growth of bristle-like feathers known as the “beard” that extends from the chest. It is not uncommon, however, to find females with a beard. The head and neck of adult males is largely bare and varies in color from red to blue to white, depending on the bird’s mood. Females are usually duller in color than males, which help camouflage them while they are nesting.

The eastern wild turkey thrives best in areas with a mix of forested and open land habitats. Forested areas are used for cover, foraging, and for roosting in trees at night. Open land areas are used for foraging, mating, and brood rearing.


Summer Turkey Observation Survey

Since 1953, 6,031 wild turkeys have been released on 358 restoration sites across the state. Almost three-fourths of these birds (4,443) have been relocated just since 1990. Wild turkey restoration is now complete in North Carolina.

Since 1989, 1,744 wild turkeys have been acquired from other states (AL, AR, CT, IA, MI, PA, SC, VA, & WI) through the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Super Fund Program to supplement in-state trapping efforts. These birds were acquired at cost of $925,727 ($608,000 was funded by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and $309,477 was funded by the NC State Chapter, NWTF). An additional 150 birds were acquired from West Virginia in a trade for 100 river otters.

The wild turkey population has increased from an estimated 2,000 birds in 1970 to an estimated 265,000 birds in 2015.

Wild turkeys now exist in all 100 counties in the state and all 100 counties now have a spring gobbler season.

The reported wild turkey harvest has increased from 144 birds in 1977, when mandatory reporting began, to 8,846 birds in 2004. The first winter harvest in over three decades was held in nine counties in January of 2004 with 181 birds being reported for a combined total harvest in 2004 of 9,027 birds.

 

Visit the Publications page for more information about turkeys in North Carolina!

Wild Turkeys Released 
(restoration ended in 2005)

1950 - 1969

176

1970 - 1979

379

1980 - 1989

943

1990 - 2005

4,443

Total

6,031


Estimated Population 
(updated every 5 years)

Year

State

1970

2,000

1980

7,500

1985

14,000

1990

28,000

1995

85,000

2000

130,000

2005

150,000

2010

260,000

2015

265,000



Wild Turkey Density Maps
(PDF)

2015

2010


Live Statewide Turkey Harvest Totals Report (harvest summary by county for current season)

State Hunter Harvest Survey Estimates

Reported Wild Turkey Harvest Summaries

Spring Harvest Summaries
By County

Spring Harvest Summaries
By Game
Land

Spring Harvest Summaries
By Weapon
Type

Spring Harvest Summaries
By Youth
Hunt Only

Winter Harvest
Summaries By County

 
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
1977-2016 Summary
 
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
 
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
 
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
 
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004


Wild Turkey Disease Report

Wild Turkey Summer Observation Survey