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Can Wild Turkeys Fly?

The wild turkey is a large ground bird that forages and lives in wooded areas scattered throughout much of the world and is consumed by the thousands during Thanksgiving time.

Because it’s most common to see a group of wild turkeys poking around on the ground and not in the sky, you may be wondering if they can fly or not. Are their wings just for show?

Wild turkeys can fly and will often fly to get away from predators or other potential threats. Although they can fly only short distances, this may be enough for them to escape the reach of a predator or to get them into a tree to nest safely for the night.

So, if turkeys have wings and can use them, why can they only fly short distances?

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the flying abilities of the wild turkey, so keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this subject.

How Fast Can Wild Turkeys Fly?

wild turkey flying in the snow

Wild turkeys are large birds, and as such, you may be thinking they wouldn’t be able to fly very fast. Moving such a large body through the air is probably difficult, but the wild turkey can actually fly pretty fast when they need to.

When threatened, a wild turkey can fly at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour to escape and reach safety. Again, they typically only fly at such speeds when they absolutely need to, so they only do this when trying to escape danger.

They’re also surprisingly fast runners, able to propel themselves over land at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. In short, you’ll be hard-pressed to catch a wild turkey on both lands and in the air.

How Far Can Wild Turkeys Fly?

wild turkey flying over the snow

As we mentioned earlier, wild turkeys cannot fly very far, typically only flying short distances to escape predators or to nest in high up locations.

It may seem strange that they cannot fly long distances, but this is actually because of their unique anatomy. The way their bodies are built will not allow them to fly long distances.

The wild turkey has specially shaped breast muscle and cupped wings that are perfect for flying at high speeds in short bursts, but this type of anatomy does not allow for covering long distances in the air.

They will typically only be able to fly for distances of up to 400 yards at a time, unable to hold their bodies aloft for much longer than this.

This is usually enough to help them get out of danger or to reach a distant nesting spot. They will often nest high up in trees to stay safe from predators when resting at night.

As you can imagine, this means that wild turkeys do not migrate. They do not have the required anatomy to allow for flying migratory distances, as some other migratory birds may fly for days straight without stopping.

A wild turkey certainly could not do this and would get too tired to continue after just a few seconds of flight.

How High Can Wild Turkeys Fly?

wild turkey flying up the tree during winter

If wild turkeys sometimes like to nest high up in trees, you may be wondering how high they can fly up into the air. The answer is that they can typically fly up to 100 meters into the air, but this is only to reach high up nesting areas.

When flying along the ground to escape predators or to cover a short distance at a rapid pace, they will typically hover no more than 16 meters above the ground.

As we mentioned before, wild turkeys are not built for sustained flight, so that means that they cannot fly nearly as high as other birds can.

Why Can’t Domesticated Turkeys Fly?

domestic turkey on the ground

Since the inception of Thanksgiving, turkeys have been domesticated and bred in captivity for generations.

The primary focus of farmers who breed domestic turkeys is to produce turkeys with the largest breast muscles, which make them better for eating.

Thousands of domestic turkeys are eaten each year for Thanksgiving, and thousands more are eaten throughout the world on a daily basis.

Because domesticated turkeys have come to have such large breast muscles, their flying abilities have been inhibited almost completely.

They still may have the instinct to fly in certain situations and may give their large wings a few good flaps, but they are typically too large to get themselves off the ground much more than a couple of inches.

Another reason that contributes to them being unable to fly is that their flight feathers will often get clipped.

This makes sure that the turkeys cannot escape open pens and areas that would be easy for wild turkeys to get out of. Wild turkeys still have their flight feathers intact and weigh much less, making it easier for them to fly short distances.

Final Thoughts

3 wild turkeys on the ground finding food

Wild turkeys are some of the largest ground birds in the world, and despite many thinking that they’re flightless like an ostrich or penguin, they actually are capable of flying short distances at incredibly high speeds.

They will typically only fly when they need to escape a predator’s grasp or reach a high up nesting spot, such as a tree or the top of a building.

Their bodies are built to allow them to fly at high speeds, but they can only sustain flight for a short period of time because of this.

On the other hand, domesticated turkeys have been bred in such a way that they can no longer fly at all.

Their bodies have become too large to be able to be supported by their wings, and farmers will also often clip their flight feathers to ensure they cannot escape their pens.

We hope the information we’ve outlined above has answered all your questions about whether or not turkeys can fly.

For more interesting animal facts and information, check out our other articles!

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