Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Wild Turkey - Meleagris gallopavo
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General Comments Populations of Wild Turkeys have rebounded spectacularly across the state, thanks to release programs by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Once a widespread and not uncommon bird in the first half of the 20th Century, populations plunged dramatically from the 1960's into the 1980's, owing mainly to development but also to increases in mammalian and avian predators (thanks to the decline in top carnivores). Despite the still expanding human populations and residential growth, and no apparent slowdown in the populations of raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, and other predators, the species has rebounded with the release of birds all across the state. These released birds seem more tolerant of disturbance and open areas, and now flocks are bold enough to be seen foraging in pastures, fields, and other open areas, though typically not far from forested cover, and usually only early in the morning or late in the day. Turkeys are most numerous in bottomland forests, especially in the Roanoke River floodplain, but they also occur in other extensive forests, especially ones where there are openings nearby for foraging.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Permanent resident; non-migratory. Fairly common to common near the Roanoke River, but mostly uncommon to fairly common elsewhere inland; increasing. In the Tidewater zone, mostly rare to uncommon, but increasing. Generally absent on coastal islands and along the immediate mainland. Peak counts: 133, along NC 101 near Harlowe (Carteret), 10 Feb 2020.
Piedmont Permanent resident; non-migratory. Generally uncommon to locally fairly common, but increasing; nowhere really common other than in Caswell Game Land (Caswell). Peak counts:
Mountains Permanent resident; non-migratory; increasing in nearly all areas. Common in the northwestern counties (Alleghany, Ashe, parts of Watauga); less numerous southward, but fairly common in many areas. Ranges upwards to about 4,000 feet elevation, but absent over 4,500 feet. Peak counts:
Finding Tips Turkeys are easiest to find by driving back roads, or even the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Ashe and Alleghany, carefully looking in fields and pastures, mainly around the margins, not far from forested cover. This strategy works well elsewhere, though they are not as easy to find. It is best to search for them along forest edges in the first hour or two of morning or near dusk, as for most of the day they are back into the forests. Driving some dirt roads, such as through large forested areas in the Coastal Plain, might turn up some birds standing or walking along the roads; carefully scan well ahead of you. Turkeys can be very difficult to see when you are on hiking trails; your best bet is from a vehicle.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-02], LeGrand[2020-04-18], LeGrand[2012-01-02]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.