It’s fun to see wild turkeys strutting through backyards and neighborhoods. But can wild turkeys fly? And if they can, how fast are they? Depending on what you’ve heard, the answers might surprise you.
So, can turkeys fly?
Yes, wild turkeys can fly short distances at surprisingly fast speeds up to 60 miles per hour. They will often fly up into trees to roost at night, keeping them safe from predators. But it’s rare to see turkeys fly. Plus, domesticated turkeys (those raised to live on farms) don’t always fly. So it’s easy to see why there is often a lot of debate around this topic. Check out some flying turkeys in this video, along with some additional wild turkey facts.
Now that you know wild turkeys can fly, you might be interested to know a little bit more of the science behind it. We spoke with bird expert Laura Erickson, who is a scientist, writer, and former middle school teacher. She’s loved birds since she was a little girl and has been writing and talking about them for many years. This includes everything from her For the Birds radio show to her most recent award-winning book 100 Plants To Feed the Birds.
To help us better understand turkeys and their flight, we asked her to break it down for us. You are sure to learn a thing or two about turkeys. Keep reading!
How far can turkeys fly?
“Even genuinely wild wild turkeys can’t fly long distances as geese can do,” Erickson explains. “This is because they have different kinds of pectoral muscles. In turkeys, these muscles are made up of ‘fast twitch’ or white muscle fibers. These muscle cells twitch really fast, giving turkeys extremely powerful flight, but the muscles get exhausted quickly.”
How fast can turkeys fly?
If a predator comes up on a turkey, the turkey can definitely move quickly to get away. Erickson says they could fly about a quarter mile or so, but after that, they’re in need of some serious rest.
You probably don’t think of turkeys as being very fast birds. After all, they’re usually moving pretty slowly as they mosey through parks and backyards. They can move when they want to, though. They might not travel far, but they can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour according to the National Audubon Society.
How high can turkeys fly?
You’re not going to see turkeys soaring in the sky like a hawk. They do fly up into trees to roost at night, and that’s about as high as you’ll see them go. They might go a bit higher if trying to escape a predator, but the treetops are about the limit.
Why do so many people think turkeys can’t fly?
“Turkeys spend so much time on the ground eating and socializing with other turkeys that people think of them as ground birds,” Erickson says. “And many people are more familiar with farm turkeys than with wild ones. Although they belong to the exact same species, farm turkeys have been bred for many, many generations to have heavy pectoral muscles—the muscles that power the wings.”
Erickson says those larger pectoral muscles make it too heavy for their wings to support. Every once in a while, some farm turkeys can fly, but most cannot.
What’s your best chance for actually seeing a turkey fly?
Erickson says she’s been birding for almost 50 years, and she’s only seen wild turkeys fly a few times. Her best tip is to find where they roost at night and catch them either flying into or out of the trees.
“When I’ve been at a place where I knew they’d be feeding at the end of the day, I’ve been able to watch some of them fly into trees,” she says. “And I’ve seen them fly out of trees in the morning at those same spots. I’ve also watched turkeys fly into big trees in the daytime to eat acorns or nuts.”
So there you have it. Turkeys can fly, and now you know where to find them too!