Talkin’ Turkey (WSJCANC)


This lesson will present the eastern wild turkey and its biology, vocalization, habitats and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s (AGFC) efforts to restore turkeys in Arkansas.

Grade Level:

4 - 8

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:



Witt Stephens Junior Central Arkansas Nature Center, Little Rock


Education Coordinator, 501-907-0636


45 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:



  • Distinguish between the five wild turkey species in North America.
  • Identify preferred habitat of eastern wild turkeys.
  • Describe the life cycle of a turkey and other ground-nesting birds.
  • Identify the primary population areas of eastern wild turkeys in Arkansas by reviewing AGFC’s annual harvest statistics and data samples.
  • Learn the preferred foods and habitats of eastern wild turkeys in Arkansas.
  • Recognize wild turkey vocalizations.
  • Describe radio telemetry uses in wild turkey management.
  • Understand the human impact on turkey populations.

Key Terms*:

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC)

Amendment 75 of 1996


Breeding season

Brood survey

Cannon net

Central Arkansas Nature Center (CANC)




Eastern wild turkey





Gobble survey






Pecking order







Tail fan


Wild turkey

Wildlife biologist

*See glossary for definations


  • AGFC turkey harvest statistics
  • Question sheet on Power Point
  • Talkin’ Turkey Power Point
  • Turkey anatomy kit from National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF)
  • Turkey beards
  • Turkey calls, electronic caller
  • Turkey feet and leg bands
  • Turkey hen decoy
  • Turkey Hunting Success and Safety DVD from National Wild Turkey Federation 


The eastern wild turkey is one of five wild turkeys in the nation, along with Gould’s turkey, Florida turkey, Merriam’s turkey and Rio Grande turkey. Eastern wild turkeys have the largest range, covering the eastern half of the United States. The ocellated turkey, found in parts of Mexico and Central America, is a different species than the wild turkey. Wild turkey populations are an important indicator of wildlife habitat carrying capacity and wildlife management.


  1. Introduce yourself and the CANC. Explain that it is owned and operated by AGFC and showcases the agency’s mission. Also tell how Amendment 75 of 1996 funds paid for the facility and allow free admission.
  2. Ask if any have ever seen a wild turkey. If so, have them describe its appearance. Play the Talkin’ Turkey Power Point and have participants follow along and complete the question sheet. Point out that Arkansas has a large population of eastern wild turkeys. Eastern turkeys have the largest range of the five wild turkeys in the country and inhabit most of the eastern United States. Others include the Merriam’s, Rio Grande, Gould’s and Florida wild turkeys. Eastern wild turkeys have iridescent plumage with shades of brown, copper, bronze, gold, green and red. The colors are more pronounced in males. Adult males (toms or gobblers) weigh about 17 - 21 pounds, and adult females (hens) weigh about 8 - 11 pounds. Young turkeys are called poults. Juvenile toms are called jakes, and juvenile hens are called jennies. Use the hen decoy to show the average size.
  3. Pass around the turkey feet and beards while discussing how they can help distinguish between juveniles and adults. Some differences are the length of spurs and beards and arrangement of feathers in the tail fan. Jakes have spurs of 1/2 inch or less and beards up to 6 inches long. Gobblers have spurs and beards longer than jakes. The tail fan feathers are equal in length in gobblers; the central four to six feathers in jake tail fans are longer than the others. Tail fan feather length also distinguishes mature hens from jennies. The wing tips in adult birds are rounded, and the barred pattern extends to the end of the feathers. Juvenile wing tips are pointed, and the barred pattern does not extend completely to the end of the feathers
  4. Eastern wild turkeys breed from late March into May in Arkansas. This is the time of year toms will gobble to attract hens. Gobblers also spread their tail feathers (fan) and drag their wings on the ground in a strutting action to gain the hens’ attention. They also vibrate muscles in their breast to create a low-pitched sound known as drumming. Their heads show shades of red, blue and white and can change color almost instantly during courtship. AGFC sets turkey season to coincide with the latter part of breeding season when most hens have been bred but toms are still gobbling. Hens usually lay one egg a day until reaching a full clutch of nine to 12 eggs. Hens nest on the ground in cover such as brush, leaves or grass. Brood survival rates average 25 - 35 percent, depending on predators and weather. The first two weeks after hatching are the most critical for poult survival. AGFC wildlife biologists monitor turkey populations with gobble surveys during breeding season and brood surveys in early summer. Note that AGFC has collected brood surveys each year since 1982. Such population counts establish hunting seasons and bag limits.
  5. Wild turkeys are social birds that congregate in groups called flocks, with the most dominant bird setting the pecking order. Turkeys are classified as gallinaceous (heavy-bodied, largely terrestrial) birds. They spend most of the day on the ground feeding. Poults eat insects, worms and grubs at first but include plant as they grow. Adults are omnivorous, consuming plants such as seeds, berries, acorns, roots, buds, leaves and stems as well as protein. AGFC wildlife biologists use food as bait when they trap turkeys for study or relocation. Pass around the turkey feet and leg bands to illustrate how biologists mark turkeys.
  6. State that wild turkeys are the largest game bird in Arkansas. Ask if any participants are turkey hunters. If so, ask them to explain why hunters use hen calls. Point out the challenge of this since it contradicts what happens in nature when toms gobble to attract hens. Tell participants that wild turkeys have excellent vision and can easily detect movement and unnatural colors. Hunters must overcome this to call gobblers within less than 35 - 40 yards. Use the electronic caller and other calling devices to mimic the calls in the wild turkey’s vocabulary. Explain the meaning of each call. Give the pros and cons of each calling device and why hunters should know how to use more than one. Ask them to explain which calls would be best to use in different scenarios.
  7. Distribute the AGFC annual brood survey and harvest statistics. Point out that the numbers vary over time but have increased due to intensive research and management practices by AGFC wildlife biologists. Wild turkey populations in Arkansas have rebounded from about 7,000 in the mid-1940s to well over 100,000 today. Subsequently, annual harvests began with a meager 153 turkeys in 1940 and grew to 11,069 in 2007.
  8. Explain how techniques such as controlled burns, food plots, disking and plowing and spraying create prime habitat for wild turkeys.


  • Use the most recent turkey season summary to compile math lessons.
  • Give participants copies of the AGFC wild turkey brochure to read and complete the question sheet.


  • Arkansas experienced wide-scale logging that cleared forests in the 1930s in an unusually dry era. How did those two factors diminish wild turkey populations? (Turkeys are forest dwellers, and their numbers decreased with forest acreage; dry conditions restricted food.)
  • What would happen to turkey numbers if AGFC stopped collecting data from annual surveys? (Without accurate information, it would be impossible to manage turkeys because wildlife biologists would have to guess at brood production, population trends, harvest numbers and other parameters. Accurate data is essential.)


Arkansas Game and Fish Commission – the state agency responsible for managing fish and wildlife populations

Beard – a group of filaments that resembles hair emerging from the chest of male turkeys; jakes have beard lengths up to six inches while gobbler beards exceed six inches; hens occasionally have beards

Breeding season – the annual cycle of breeding of wild turkeys, and the only time hens will mate with toms; generally begins sometime in March and runs through sometime in May in Arkansas; triggered by increasing day length and weather conditions

Brood survey – a sampling method wildlife biologists use to forecast turkey populations; done by counting poult numbers in late spring

Cannon net – a large net fired from a device on the ground to harmlessly capture wild turkeys; used by wildlife biologists to translocate turkeys or to gather specimens for research

Clutch – a group of eggs (usually 9-12) laid by a wild turkey hen

Dewlap – the skin underneath a turkey’s head connecting to its neck

Drumming – a low-pitched sound emitted by a tom or jake during mating season; characterized by visible trembling as the breast muscles vibrate

Eastern wild turkey – one of five subspecies of wild turkey in the US and the only one in AR; has the largest range and is found in most of the eastern US; the largest game bird in AR

Flock – a group of turkeys

Gallinaceous – heavy-bodied, largely terrestrial birds including wild turkeys, grouse, and pheasants

Gobbler – nickname for a male, or tom, turkey

Gobble survey – a method of counting male wild turkeys (toms or gobblers) by wildlife biologists in the spring to estimate population counts

Habitat – area suitable for wildlife to live; ideal wild turkey habitat includes a mixture of forests and open areas with a variety of food sources

Harvest – the term used for taking an animal by hunting, fishing or trapping; wildlife biologists rely on hunters to harvest “surplus” turkeys to keep the population within a healthy range

Hen – an adult female wild turkey

Jake – a juvenile (sub-adult) male wild turkey

Jenny – a juvenile (sub-adult) female wild turkey

Pecking order – a social structure within a flock of wild turkeys established by factors such as age and dominance that helps ensure survival of the species

Plumage – the feathers of a bird

Poult – a young wild turkey

Roost – (verb): the action of wild turkeys of seeking overnight shelter in treetops; (noun): the treetop location where a wild turkey takes cover overnight

Snood – an elongated, featherless portion of skin protruding from the front of a wild turkey’s head that usually hangs beside the beak; more pronounced in male turkeys

Spur – a sharp, bony-like protrusion from the back of the mid-leg of male wild turkeys; used for fighting and defending itself

Strut/strutting – a courtship behavior of toms and jakes during the mating season to attract hens or to signal dominance to other males; characterized by rising feathers, spreading wings and tail fan, dragging wing tips on the ground, and drumming

Tail fan – the feathers at the tip of the wild turkey tail that toms and jakes spread to visually attract hens during mating season

Tom – an adult male wild turkey, also known as a gobbler

Wildlife biologist – a scientist who studies and manages wild animals