Why Turkeys Don’t Migrate

Everyone knows that birds fly south for the winter to seek warmer climates, and steadier food sources, and ultimately escape the effects the harsh cold weather has on their habitats.

While this is true for most, not all birds can fly such great distances. An example of this would be the turkey. This leads us to the question: Do turkeys migrate and how?

Are Turkeys Migratory Birds?

No, turkeys do not migrate along with the other birds. While they may not fly thousands of miles away to a new location, they do relocate to closer, more livable areas that will allow them to survive.

Wild turkeys are also incredibly intelligent and have developed several coping mechanisms that other birds do not have when it comes to surviving the winter.

Why Don’t Turkeys Migrate?

There are a couple of reasons why wild turkeys put off traveling long distances for the sake of the weather.

Turkeys Cannot Fly Long Distances

Do Turkeys Migrate?

Migrating birds often fly over thousands and thousands of miles just to relocate to warmer, sunnier climates for the winter. Turkeys cannot do this.

Turkeys can only fly in short bursts. Typically, the farthest these birds can fly is a little over a hundred yards. However, some wild turkeys have been known to reach maximum distances of 400 yards in one go. 

Regardless, even if it takes multiple breaks in between flying, it will never be able to reach its destination in time.

This is because turkeys usually have a stockier build as opposed to other birds. Their heavier bodies weigh them down and their wings are unable to flap fast enough to sustain their elevation thus rendering them unable to fly longer distances.

They Possess the Ability to Survive Winters

Turkeys are among the most intelligent of the wild birds and it shows in the way they don’t find it necessary to move thousands of miles away just because the weather is cold.

Instead, they developed several systems and precautions to ensure their survival during the deadly cold season.

Relocation to other areas

Turkeys live in a wide variety of areas including open forests, plains, and even mountain ranges. However, when winter comes they tend to relocate and avoid higher altitudes that expose them more to the elements. 

During this time, they frequent plains and forests that provide them with more sunlight that regulates the amount of snow. It is also important that these areas have an adequate amount of trees for food and shelter. 

Settling in Trees

Usually, turkeys prefer open lands and spend most of their day on the ground before they roost in trees for the night.

However, during the winter you can most likely see them hunched up in trees with lots of leaves, even during the daytime. 

This unusual practice for the turkey is done in an attempt to escape the cold winter winds by getting the leaves and branches to act as shields. 

Even when it’s not winter, turkeys can be seen settling in trees for the night to escape predators and threats that may come their way in the dark.

Stocking up on Fat

All animals can feel the change of the seasons. Once turkeys sense that winter is fast approaching, they tend to load up on food and stock up on much-needed fat to insulate their bodies. 

Turkeys, like all other birds, are mainly covered with thin feathers that provide little to no insulation during winter.

So, to make up for it, turkeys eat and eat so that they gain weight and are able to coat themselves with the necessary fat to keep their bodies warm.

Since winter almost always means that there’s less food available for these wild turkeys, these fat deposits also allow them to survive long periods of time without eating.

In the absence of food, their body utilizes their built-up fat to generate the energy they need to get through the day.

In fact, during this time, turkeys can lose close to half (roughly 40%) of their body weight before they feel the effects of starvation kicking in.

Use of Air Pockets

Do Turkeys Migrate?

Much like other creatures that remain during the winter, turkeys also have their special means of regulating their body temperature and keeping themselves toasty.

One method is the use of air pockets in their feathers. By meticulously maintaining air pockets, these birds trap their own body heat and allow it to continue to circulate beneath their feathers. This keeps the air around their body nice and toasty.

To add to that, they repel water with their outer feathers to ensure that no cold moisture enters these air pockets and disturbs the warmth inside.

All of this and more allows these intelligent birds to power through even the harshest challenges that the cold weather has to offer.

Do Turkeys Hibernate?

If turkeys do not migrate, does that mean that they hibernate to survive the winter as other animals do? No, turkeys do not sleep through the winter like bears and other animals.

Yes, much like hibernating animals, they do tend to bulk up and build up their body weight close to winter. But, they do not enter hibernation nor sleep through long periods of time during the season.

Turkeys remain active despite the treacherous weather and still spend their mornings foraging for food and going about their usual activities.

However, they are noted to spend a bit more time up in trees during winter especially if the snow on the ground is thick.

The closest turkeys can get to hibernation is when they roost up in trees for prolonged periods of time, essentially going days without food. But, eventually, they do descend from their resting places and look for something to eat.


While turkeys may not be able to seek warmer territories during the winter as other birds do, they do have the ability to conquer the freezing, perilous season.

That being said, despite being intelligent creatures with great adapting skills, not all turkeys will be able to survive the winter as these creatures are not made to thrive in cold climates.

To ensure this bird’s survival during the winter, areas must have adequate sources of food and shelter else risk the death of up to half of their population.

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