Although approximately the same size as the Eastern, the Merriam has different coloration. It is black with blue, purple and bronze reflections. White feathers on the lower back and tail feather margins distinguish the Merriam from other subspecies of turkey. The margins have a dull white appearance. Merriam’s appear to have a white rump due to pinkish buff, or whitish tail coverts and tips. The tail feathers are very conspicuous when the gobbler struts against a dark background. Toms have black-tipped breast feathers, while the hens exhibit buff tips. Hens have a more extensive white area on the wings giving a whiter appearance when the wings are folded.
Average Weight Range
Mature Merriam wild turkeys weigh from eight to over 20 pounds.
Breeding occurs during the spring and summer months (May through August). The increase of daylight hours in spring triggers hormonal changes. Gobbling is used to attract receptive females for mating in late February to early March. Males exhibit both gobbling and strutting to attract females. Gobbling attracts the hen to the male, who then courts the female by strutting. If the gobbler is successful, the female will crouch to signal the male to begin copulation. The first peak time for gobbling occurs at the beginning of breeding season when gobblers are searching for hens. The second peak begins a few weeks later, when most hens begin incubation. Gobblers mate with several hens, and it is generally the adult males who do most of the mating. Hens lay anywhere from 8 to 12 eggs per clutch, averaging about 28 days for incubation.
Wild turkeys are omnivores, eating a variety of plant and animal matter wherever and whenever available. Poults, or young turkey, eat large quantities of insects and other animal matter to get needed protein for development. As turkeys age, plant matter becomes the primary food source with about 90 percent of the mature turkey’s diet including the green foliage of grasses, vines, forbs, acorns, buds, seeds and various fruits.
The Merriam is found in the ponderosa pine forests of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and the rest of the Rocky Mountain range, and has been transplanted to Nebraska, Washington, California, Oregon, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Manitoba.
Merriam’s wild turkeys inhabit ponderosa pine forests, western mountainous regions of the United States and the woodland prairies. Merriam’s tend to live in regions that receive annual rainfall of 15 to 23 inches.
Common Hunting Methods
The shotgun, bow and arrow, and black powder are all used to hunt turkey. To attract turkey, hunters use a wide range of calls to lure them or to induce gobblers to a fight. Calling has become so popular that contests are held each year so experts and novices alike can fine-tune their skills.
With their excellent eyesight and well-developed sense of hearing, the turkey can sometimes outsmart decoys used by hunters as they become more and more sensitized to their presence. Wild turkeys are very good to eat and can be smoked, fried or baked. Many hunters proudly display their colorful capes, beards or full-bodied mounts.
Turkeys will answer thunder from an approaching storm with calls of their own.
Turkey hunting is one of the most popular forms of hunting.
Hens produce droppings in shapes like a mound, and the gobbler’s droppings are in a straight line or resemble the letter “J.”
Named for C. Hart Merriam, who was the first chief of the U. S. Biological Survey.
Read about other Turkey subspecies:
Eastern Wild Turkey
Rio Grande Turkey