Wild Turkey In Flight

The sights and sounds of Wild Turkeys in flight are truly impressive.


1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 400mm, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this turkey in a remote area of Box Elder County three weeks ago as its wingtips barely cleared a strand of barbed wire on top of a fence. The original image was seriously underexposed so I had to bring it back up in Photoshop and my heavy-handed processing shows but I find the photo interesting for several reasons:

  • I rarely see photos of Wild Turkeys in flight so I’m happy to have this one despite its flaws.
  • Male Wild Turkeys can weigh over 16 lbs. (males multiply their weight by approximately 120 times during their first year!) so seeing and hearing one in flight gets your attention. It takes a lot of energy, used efficiently, to get that much weight into the air quickly so they have 18-19 very large secondaries (BNA Online refers to those secondaries as “ample”) to assist in that effort. I like this look at those flight feathers, both primaries and secondaries, because of their contrasting patterns and colors even in this light.
  • Every time I see a large bird barely clearing barbed wire in flight like this I shudder and wonder how I’d ever get it off of the wire if it became hung up on those nasty barbs. After struggling to get both a Barn Owl and a Short-eared Owl off of barbed wire I always carry gloves and heavy-duty wire cutters in my pickup but I suspect that doing the same with an angry and scared bird this large would be quite an adventure. And then (speaking of adventures) from this area there’s the 60 minute or longer drive to the rehab center in Ogden! I have to wonder if DaLyn, Buz and staff at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah have ever had to rehab a Wild Turkey. If so I’ll bet they could tell some stories…

We have two subspecies of Wild Turkeys here in Utah. Merriam’s turkeys are considered mountain birds and are often found in conifer forests at elevations of 7,000-11,000 ft. I strongly suspect this bird to be a Rio Grande turkey because they prefer cottonwood river bottoms somewhat similar to the habitat near where I photographed this one.


PS – I keep thinking about that “multiply their weight by approximately 120 times in their first year” statistic. If a 7 lb. human newborn grew at that rate it would weigh 840 lbs. on its first birthday. Just imagine trying to keep that kid in clothes. And shoes…



27 comments to Wild Turkey In Flight

  • Nice shot!
    Good definition overall at that 400mm focal length and 6.3 aperture considering the size of the bird. Sorta like trying to get a whole B-52 in focus when standing close to it.

    I love being in the swampy woods at dawn and hearing all the weird noises coming from a roosting flock of turkeys! As April said, that wing rattle is quite unique.

  • Great image Ron. A rare visual treat, and a close call with the barbed wire fence. Thanks!

  • Bill lindner

    I have lived in SW Minneapolis for some time and have seen Turkeys frequently but as developments spread, sightings have decreased. About 5 months ago I saw about 6 – 10 birds fly over the road about 75 yards ahead of me at an altitude of about 50 feet. LOTS of energy invested in that flight. Years ago one lucky home owner had there house chosen by thr resident flock to be their roost. Lots of noise and mess but to their credit, the owners honored the birds choice.

    • Good for those home owners, Bill. In some mountain communities around here there’s so many turkeys they’ve become what some folks consider pests but in the places I go I seldom see them.

  • Shirley

    OMG, once again Ron you were in the right place at the right time. I never thought I would see a Wild Turkey in flight, either live or in a photo, so thank you so much for this fantastic shot. In my eyes, you can walk on water! We have many Wild Turkeys around but usually large groups of them crossing the highway or eating on the edge of the highway. One of my clients (I care for the elderly in the community) said he only sees the Wild Turkey fly enough to get themselves from the ground to perch in a tree at night.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I know turkeys roost in trees and here is a picture-proof of one flying, but it still seems miraculous that such a heavy bird can get into the air at all!!!

  • Learning all the time. I don’t even think of turkeys (domestic OR wild) flying. And am blown away by the growth rate. That requires some serious foraging. And yes, it is definitely a plus that they growth their own clothes. Toiletting would be a significant issue if humans approached that rate of growth too.

  • April Olson

    I learned a bit about turkeys today, I have to admit I don’t know much about them. Their feathers are not just brown but are beautiful and iridescent golds, blues, reds, orange and purples. When the rehab was located at the Ogden Nature Center we had 3 wildish turkeys( I believe they were a wild/domestic hybrid) that roamed the grounds, affectionately called Tom, Thomas and Tommy, by the rehab staff . I loved to sit and watch them in the sun and display to each other or their reflection in the windows of the education building.

    • April Olson

      I forgot to mention when they display their wings make a distinct rattle as they shake the feathers, it is again a sound I find enjoyable.

    • Thanks, April. I was wondering if WRCNU had any experience with turkeys.

      Here’s what BNA Online has to say about their wing rattling: “Audible rattling of wing pinions often exists during strut”. They also make other non-vocal sounds when they display, the source of which is not well understood.

  • Susan Stone

    Your post script gave me a good laugh. I am amazed that a critter that weighs 16 pounds could fly at all. From this photo it looks to me like Turkeys aren’t the greatest flyers. For some reason this photo takes me back to the days when I lived right next to a swamp and could watch Great Blue Herons take off. Talk about awkward! But they seem to be fine once they are airborne. I’m guessing that Turkeys might be similar in flight, and that perhaps this one had recently taken off?

    • “perhaps this one had recently taken off”

      Susan, this bird had flown only a fairly short distance be for the photo was taken. They’re quite strong fliers for short distances.

  • Mikal Deese

    I had an adult wild turkey in rehab, very briefly. Some lower life form had shot one with an arrow. The bird was shot through, arrow embedded with both ends sticking out. Nevertheless, it took two days and many neighbors before it could be captured and brought to me. With two people wrestling, we were able to remove the arrow and clean the wounds. As I was settling him into an enclosure for a few days of R and R, he decided to leave. He slipped by me into the safety hallway, then busted right through the door and was free. While I stood there open mouthed, he then took three running steps and flew, UP OVER THE NEIGHBORS’ HOUSE and out over the valley. Yes, given inspiration wild turkeys can fly.

    • That’s a great story, Mikal – and kind of like I imagined it would be. Wild turkeys are actually strong short distance fliers (up to about 1.6 km) but because of all that weight they don’t have much stamina.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Amazed by the growth rate!!! Hope it isn’t contagious!!! I have yet to see turkeys fly though we see a good sized flock of them foraging on the ground. Thankfully, you didn’t have to rescue one one from the Devil’s wite…it would have put up quite a ruckus and others would possibly come to its “aid”, as they tend to do…if so poor you–they are tough buggers! Beautiful image…

  • Arwen

    That’s an impressive growth rate! We have a flock where we go walking. Husband got some Iphone shots. Really beautiful. And I still think Ben Franklin was right. 😉

  • I loved your analogy to ( with ? ) a human 1 year old– really makes the wonder of it clear– what a challenge it must be to find enough FOOD in the wild to support that kind of development !

  • Charlotte Norton

    It’s a sensational shot Ron,thanks for sharing!


  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful! Can’t imagine trying to untangle one from barbed wire for sure……….. They certainly do/have to grow fast – lots of calories to make that happen. Have to have a LOT of muscle to fly – lots of “dark meat” in those birds for sure. 🙂 A friend was talking about a flock of them surrounding a cat one day so they can also be quite ferocious at times…….

    • Yup, I imagine birds this large can take care of themselves. Although many predators eat their eggs the only predator BNA Online lists for adult Wild Turkeys is man. Thanks, Judy.