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Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey was an important game bird in Ontario, Eastern Canada and the United States in particular, but turkey is reported to have been eaten by cultures throughout most of North America [1, 2]. Specific cultures reported to have eaten Wild Turkey include Mohawk (Iroquois), Huron, Onondaga (Iroquois), Shawnee, Ojibway (Anishinabek) of Michigan, among many others [3-12]. Turkeys were also domesticated by some cultures, providing a reliable source of protein and ornamental feathers. 

Wild Turkeys were trapped or shot. The Huron hunted with snares or bows and arrows [6]. The Iroquois hunted turkey in winter with snares, especially when other food supplies were low. Turkey was also hunted in fall and spring. These birds could be found in nearby fields and forests [4]. The Ojibway of Michigan used traps made of twig boxes and bait consisting of acorns or other mast crops [12].

Rappahannock hunters sought “river turkeys” and “forest turkeys”.  They built a blind over the course of a few days to allow the turkeys to grow accustomed to its presence. Food was left close to the blind and flocks were lured by whistling through a “yelping bone” made from a turkey lower leg bone or by rubbing bone over horsehairs stretched across a wooden board. When turkeys ventured close to the blind, the hunter would kill the bird from his hiding place behind the blind [13].


The Athapaskan reportedly roasted, boiled, stewed or stuffed the turkey [14]. The Ojibway of Michigan used turkey to enhance the flavour of soups and stews [12]. The Potawatomi first pickled their turkeys in brine and then smoked and stored them for later consumption [3].

Uses other than food

The Powhatan wove turkey feathers into cloaks; others cultures used the feathers to fletch arrows. The hollow limb bones were used to make whistles, tubular containers, beads and other tools and trinkets [1].


1.         Olsen SL: Animals in American Indian Life: An Overview. In: Stars Above, Earth Below American Indians and Nature. edn. Edited by Bol MC. Dublin: Roberts Rinehart Publishers; 1998: 95-118.

2.         Rogers ES: Aboriginal Ontario: historical perspectives on the First Nations. Toronto: Dundurn Press; 1994.

3.         Trigger BG (ed.): Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1978.

4.         Webster GS: Northern Iroquoian Hunting: An Optimization Approach. n/a: The Pennsylvania State University; 1983.

5.         Wein EE: The Traditional Food Supply of Native Canadians. Canadian Home Economics Journal 1994, 44(2):74-77.

6.         Heidenreich CE: The Huron: A Brief Ethnography. York: York University-Department of Geography; 1972.

7.         Hughes JD: Forest Indians: the holy occupation. Environ 1977, NO. 1:2-13.

8.         Tuck JA: Onondaga Iroquois PreHistory: A Study in Settlement Archaeology, vol. 1st edition. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press; 1971.

9.         Waugh FW. In: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation. edn. Ottawa: Department of Mines. Government Printing Bureau; 1973.

10.       Tooker E: An Ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615-1649, vol. originally published as Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 190. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press; 1991.

11.       Tooker E: Subsistence of the Huron Indians. In: Cultural Ecology: Readings on the Canadian Indians and Eskimos. edn. Edited by Cox B. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart; 1973: 26-34.

12.       Clifton JA, Cornell GL, McClurken JM: People of The Three Fires: The Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibway of Michigan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Grand Rapids Inter-Tribal Council; 1986.

13.       Speck FG, Hassrick RB, Carpenter ES: Rappahannock Taking Devices: Traps, Hunting and Fishing. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Anthropological Society; 1946.

14.       Cruikshank J. In: Athapaskan Women: Lives and Legends. edn. Ottawa: National Musem of Man; 1979: 26-41.

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a large upland fowl species and is the only turkey species native to North America. Wild Turkeys have been successfully introduced in southern Canada and re-established in many other parts of North American range, in addition to being introduced to Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia.

Wild Turkeys are massive birds, with males (toms) weighing up to 11 kg and females (hens) about half as large. Wild Turkeys have bluish and reddish bare skin on the head and neck, a glossy dark plumage, a large fan-shaped tail, and a long neck and legs. They mostly prefer lowlands, occupying prairie brush or open deciduous and mixed woodlands with large clearings and meadows. Wild Turkeys are omnivorous and feed on almost anything they can find on the ground, including seeds, berries, fruits, shoots, leaves, insects, and small reptiles. They are social birds, especially in the winter when they often gather in large foraging flocks. They roost in the center of their feeding range, preferring large stands of big sheltered trees. They breed in late winter when males become very vocal, gobbling intensively, to attract a harem of 4-5 females. Major egg predators are raccoons, opossums, skunks, and foxes, while adults can be predated upon by coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, Golden Eagles, and Great Horned Owl. Wild Turkey populations have suffered greatly from overharvesting in the past. In the mid-1900s, the North America-wide population had declined to fewer than 300,000 birds, but by 1990, hunting management and reintroduction efforts had successfully increased numbers to around 3.5 million birds.


Eaton SW: Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1992.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Wild Turkey
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Creator: Greg Lasley