Once rare, wild turkeys have become common throughout southern, western and even central Minnesota. Their population is more than 70,000.

The home range of the wild turkey is the eastern, southern and southwestern United States and into Mexico. There is no proven evidence that the species ever existed in Minnesota before European settlement, but it was introduced into the southern part of the state as far back as 1936.

Although they feed on the ground, wild turkeys roost in trees at night. It’s quite a sight to see a bird that is 3 to 4 feet tall spring off the ground and fly nearly straight up into a tall tree. Wild turkeys are brown and bronze, each with a striking blue and red featherless head. Acorns are a preferred food, but they will eat any seed, plus fruits, grasses, ferns, tree buds, insects and frogs.

Because they are highly visible and active during daylight, wild turkeys have been blamed at times for crop damage that likely was the work of raccoons or squirrels. Studies in Wisconsin and Iowa have concluded that wild turkeys seen in crop fields eat mainly waste grain and rarely cause crop damage. Instead, they benefit farmers by eating insects and weed seeds.

Many of us enjoy seeing flocks containing a dozen to 40 or more, scavenging along roads near wooded edges or observing a couple of them at our wildlife feeding stations. Still, we really need to keep wild turkeys wild. Do not allow turkeys to be comfortable in the presence of people. Chase them away from your residence. Don’t feed them.

The domestic turkey, a subspecies, was taken by Spaniards from Mexico to Europe in the 16th century. Early thought was that the bird had originated in the country of Turkey. Hence, the name. English settlers brought the domestic turkey back to North America.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.