Scientific Name: Meleagris gallopavo
Classification: Big Game
Abundance: Common throughout state
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.
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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
1970 - 1979
1980 - 1989
1990 - 2005
(updated every 5 years)
Wild Turkey Density Maps
2017-2021 Turkey Hunting and Harvest Estimate Maps
1949-2021 Turkey Estimated Harvest and Hunter Trends
Deer Hunter Observation Survey Results, 2014-2017
Deer Hunter Observation Survey Results (Short Summary), 2014-2017