Bird Database

Wild Turkey

(Meleagris gallopavo)

State of the Birds
At a Glance





Strongly increasing


None identified

Conservation Actions

Some habitat management is still required to ensure an adequate mix of habitats, and hunting is still used to manage population numbers

Wild Turkey

(Meleagris gallopavo)

Given the numbers of turkeys one encounters throughout NH in the 21st century, it’s hard to believe there were none here for over 100 years. Wild Turkeys originally occurred throughout eastern and southwestern North America, and south into much of Mexico. The Mexican birds are in fact the ancestors of the domestic turkey, the only domesticated animal from the Western Hemisphere that has spread widely to other parts of the world. All the domestic turkeys we see today are probably descended from birds taken back to Europe by the Spanish in the 1500s. Some of those descendants were probably brough back to New England in the early colonial period, where settlers also encountered the native wild variety. There is no record of which – if either – was served at the first Thanksgiving. Either way, the native turkeys’ time was limited, and through a combination of hunting and habitat loss it was extirpated from New Hampshire by the 1850s.

In 1969, NH Fish and Game began releasing turkeys in the southern part of the state, starting around Pawtuckaway State Park. This early restoration attempt failed due to harsh winters, but a second series of releases in the Connecticut Valley beginning in 1975 was clearly successful. Although growth was initially slow, the population took off in the 1990s and turkeys have now been found in every town in the state – counter to early predictions that they wouldn’t get north of the Lakes Region.

It was reasonable to assume that habitat and climate might limit the turkey’s expansion throughout NH. One of their primary foods is mast (especially acorns and beech nuts), and masting trees aren’t found statewide. In addition, heavy snow can cover nuts and other seeds on the ground, making it more difficult for turkeys to forage. But turkeys are clearly an adaptable species, and their expansion north has likely been aided by a moderating climate and alternative foods such as corn. Harsh winters can still take a toll on populations in Coos County, and turkeys remain absent from higher elevations.

The next time you eat turkey, either as the centerpiece of a holiday meal or sliced in a sandwich, take a moment to reflect on the dramatic journeys the species has made: from domestication in central Mexico two millennia ago to Europe and back to New England, and from local extirpation to one of the more prevalent species on the present NH landscape.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Wild Turkey
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count