Can Turkeys Fly? Explained In Detail

Can Turkeys Fly

A dinner table staple for thanksgiving and almost the national bird of the United States, the turkey has an interestingly special place in our hearts. 

While generally, if asked to think of a turkey, you would think of a wild turkey with its brilliant colors, big and awkward. 

They are seen most usually on the ground, strutting and sputtering about. 

They do seem to carry a gorgeous set of wings, from what you can see, so can Can Turkeys Fly?

Or are they land dwellers? 

And what about their partner in the genus Meleagris, the domesticated turkey? 

Today we are going to take a look at the two types of turkeys, some primary differences between them, and most importantly, discuss their ability (or lack thereof) to fly. Let’s swoop right in.

What Are The Two Common Types Of Turkeys?

Can Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) Fly?

Let’s first look at the more vibrant and gorgeous pick of the two, the wild turkey or Meleagris gallopavo. 

The heaviest species in its order, it is an ancestor to the domestic turkey, though breeding practices have by this point made their differences vast and varied. 

They are infamous for their beautifully vibrant, multicolored, and multilayered feathers, with colors like red, bronze, copper, purple, green, blue, and even gold iridescence.

They have long fan-shaped glossy wings and despite their size, they are excellent yet unique fliers. 

They are agile aviators and may fly beneath the canopy when put into their ideal habitat of woodlands. 

They have a slim neck and broad wings with a wingspan of 4.1 to 4.8 feet, which enables them to fly close to the ground, for no longer than a quarter of a mile (400m).

Though they cannot reach high altitudes, they can reach speeds of up to 50 miles an hour. 

Their flight in short bursts is important for many crucial reasons, the primary one being to escape from predators at night. 

Wild turkeys are much more vulnerable at night because of their poor vision, so it is most likely that they will see their predators only when it is too late. 

To avoid this dire fate, turkeys will usually leave their morning habits of frolicking around the ground and choose a tall tree and a big group to sleep with.

Both of these things provide shelter and protection in the case of an ambush.

Can Domesticated Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo domesticus) Fly?

The domesticated turkey, on the other hand, is much less visually appealing, though this is more of a deliberate man-made evolution than anything mother nature herself allotted. 

While the usual bronze and brown shades you associate with turkeys actually belong to the wild turkey we just discussed, the domesticated turkey sports mostly white feathers.

This is a product of intentional breeding practices that aims at giving the carcass a more agreeable and aesthetic appearance and so wanted to remove the brown feathers from the mix.

When the domesticated turkey is young, they have the ability to readily fly short distances, perch on trees, as well as roost on them just like their wilder ancestors.

These abilities and other important survival mechanisms are slowly lost as the young ones grow. 

One main reason they cannot fly is that they are commercially bred for meat consumption only, so they have fat deposited specifically on their breast. 

This makes them too heavy for their wings to pick up off the ground. Their size is so massive that it has made them unable to copulate naturally, which is why their breeders artificially inseminate them.

Another reason the domesticated variety cannot fly is that they cannot make use of their breast muscles to fly, as it is too meaty, and never worked out. 

The wild turkeys, on the other hand, use a combination of wing mechanics as well as their breast muscle strength to push their bodies up and forward.

Other Key Differences Between The Two

Running Speeds

Though you might not guess it by looking at the funny-looking, awkwardly big fowl, wild turkeys are great runners and can run faster than a galloping horse. 

They can reach an astonishing speed of about 25 miles per hour. The domesticated variety, on the other hand, is not a good runner at all. 

They have short legs which are rarely put to use, and so the muscles are rarely worked out. Their massive size also does not allow them to run very fast or far.

Survival Instincts

Wild turkeys can hang on just fine when they are in the woods surrounded by potential predators. 

Their acute sense of sight, as well as their incredible running and flying speeds, allow them to protect themselves much better than their cousin, the domesticated turkey. 

The domesticated version is conversely very ill-suited for the woods as they have lost all their survival instincts due to centuries of domestication and are now unfortunately easy prey.

Why Do People Think Wild Turkeys Cannot Fly?

One main reason that can be attributed to this common misconception about wild turkeys is that they are most often seen in the ground, foraging for their food. 

They have a varied diet of acorns, nuts, pines, seeds, berries, and their favorite, insects. Thus, they are most often seen frolicking and foraging about on the ground, which is where this myth could come from.

Another highly possible reason could be that the size and shape of a wild turkey do not really seem very suited for flying. 

Its small head and big body definitely make it seem like taking flight off the ground is impossible but now we know that is not so.

In Conclusion

Wild turkeys do, in fact, fly, as opposed to their domesticated cousins who unfortunately cannot. We hope we have cleared your doubts and that we have taught you something new about these curious creatures.

Thank you for reading!

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