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The return of the wild turkey to Nebraska, other states that historically had turkey populations and to states outside the turkey’s historic range is one of the great success stories of wildlife management.
Turkey Distribution Map
The wild turkey was extirpated from Nebraska by about 1915. The modern history of wild turkeys in Nebraska began with releases in 1959. The population prospered, especially in the Merriams subspecies and hybrid birds, and the turkey’s range now includes most major river drainages and the pine ridge. Small, isolated populations are found in appropriate habitat outside the primary
The wild turkey is the largest upland game bird in North America. Adult Merriam’s toms taken in the fall season average 18 pounds and adult hens average 10 pounds. Hybrid birds can be heavier weighing more than 25 pounds.
Most of Nebraska’s turkey hunting takes place on private land, and preseason scouting to establish and renew landowner contacts and locate flocks are the first steps to a successful hunt.
Merriam’s Wild Turkeys are close in size to the Eastern Wild Turkey, but tend to weigh less
than their related subspecies. Adult male turkeys, also known as a gobbler or
tom, average 4 feet (122 cm) in height and weigh on average 18 – 24 pounds (8 –
11 kg) and have been known to weigh up to 25 – 28 pounds (113 – 13 kg). Juvenile
male turkeys, also known as jakes, will typically be a third of the size of a
mature turkey, weighing an average of 15 – 20 pounds (7 – 9 kg). The Merriam’s
Wild Turkey is characterized by near white tipped tail coverts (the smaller
feathers that cover the larger feathers) and white tail feather tips. The breast
feathers usually have white tips, while the body feathers are an iridescence of
purple, blue and bronze. Female turkeys, also known as hens, can be the same
height as males, but weigh about 8 – 14 pounds (4 – 6 kg).
Merriam’s Wild Turkey Diet
Merriam’s Wild Turkey have a wide variety of foods in their diet ranging from chokecherries, bearberries, ponderosa pine seeds, and grain like corn, oats and wheat. They also enjoy eating insects such as grasshoppers, spiders and beetles. While their range is not as far spread as the Eastern Wild Turkey, a Merriam’s diet can be very broad, as there are plants that are indigenous to certain areas of the country.
Merriam’s Wild Turkey Reproduction
Merriam’s lay their eggs from late-March to early-May depending on their geographic location and typically laying an average of 10 – 12 eggs. This process can take about 2 weeks, as turkeys will usually only lay one egg a day. During the incubation period of 26 – 28 days, the hen will move the eggs periodically throughout the day. Once the incubation period has passed, the eggs may hatch within a 24-hour period of one another. The hen and her newly hatched turkeys (also called poults) will leave the nest within 12 – 24 hours of being hatched in search of food.