Wild Turkey Vocalizations: An Overview for Hunters

Understanding wild turkey vocalizations can increase your chances of locating turkeys during the hunting season. Wild turkeys communicate using a variety of vocalizations, each serving a distinct purpose in the social interactions and survival of wild turkeys. From establishing dominance to warning of danger, these sounds are an essential part of their communication.  Here are some common vocalizations and their meanings:

Strutting Turkey

(Photo, Carl James)

GOBBLE: THE SIGNATURE CALL OF MALE TURKEYS

The gobble is the most well-known vocalization of male turkeys, often used during the spring breeding season to attract hens and assert dominance over other males. The gobble is a loud, distinctive call primarily produced by male turkeys during the spring mating season. It can carry for long distances and serves as a way to attract females and assert dominance.

The gobble is a declaration of the presence and vigor of male turkeys. It signals their availability for mating and can also be used to establish territory and warn off potential rivals.

DRUMMING: A Variation of the Gobble

The drumming vocalization, also known as the spit or spit and drum, is a variation of the gobble. It is often made by male turkeys to get the attention of hens.  It is characterized by a softer, lower-pitched gobble followed by a drumming sound produced by vibrating air sacs.

YELPS: COMMON COMMUNICATION SOUNDS IN TURKEY GROUPS

The yelp is a versatile vocalization used by both male and female turkeys.  It is a series of short, high-pitched notes and can convey various messages depending on context.  Hens often use yelps to maintain contact with their flock or to communicate with gobblers during mating season. 

CLUCKING: A VERSATILE VOCALIZATION

The cluck is a soft, short vocalization typically made by both male and female turkeys. It is often used in a series of two to three single note clucks to communicate contentment, reassurance, or to locate other members of the flock.

PURRING: THE CONTENTMENT SOUND

Purring is a soft, rolling sound made by turkeys to express contentment, often heard when they are relaxed or feeding. It is a
soothing vocalization that can signify a sense of safety and comfort within the flock.

KEE-KEE: THE DISTINCTIVE CALL OF YOUNG TURKEYS

The kee-kee is a high-pitched call made by young turkeys to maintain contact with the flock and signal their presence. It helps young turkeys stay connected and navigate their surroundings.

CUTTING: AGGRESSIVE VOCALIZATIONS

The cut is a series of quick, sharp notes made by both male and female turkeys. It is often used as an excited or aggressive vocalization and may indicate agitation or alarm.

CACKLING: EXCITED VOCALIZATIONS

The “cackle” is a vocalization made by wild turkeys, particularly by hens. It is a series of short, sharp, and excited sounds often emitted when turkeys are flying down from their roosts in the morning or when they are agitated or excited. The cackle call typically consists of a series of yelps, clucks, and cuts, sometimes mixed with purring sounds.

PUTTING: A CALL OF DANGER

When a turkey starts “putting,” it’s not trying to catch its breath after a sprint—it’s actually the alarm sound. This sharp, staccato series of putts is like a turkey’s version of yelling, “Danger”. It’s their way of alerting the group to potential threats.

The diverse vocal repertoire of wild turkeys is a testament to the intricacies of their social interactions and survival strategies.  Understanding turkey vocalizations can provide valuable insights into their behavior, social dynamics, and enhance your ability to locate wild turkeys in their natural habitat. 

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