Narragansett Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

Named for Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, this is the oldest turkey variety developed in the United States.
Narragansett turkeys originate from the breeding of native wild turkeys in New England to domesticated species brought here by European settlers. Three of these attractive birds can be seen here in our
New England Farmyard.

This type of turkey is known as a Heritage Breed, which is an endangered domestic animal. Unlike wild animals that have become endangered because of habitat destruction or over-hunting, some domestic breeds of animals are rare because they are no longer seen as being valuable to man. Most turkeys raised for food in the United States have undergone selective breeding to be very fast-growing and so large that their mobility is limited. The heritage breeds may not be as useful for commercial food production, but they are an important genetic resource for the future of agriculture. They often retain vital attributes such as disease and parasite resistance, longevity and foraging abilities. People are working to save these breeds because once they are gone, these characteristics can never be recovered.

Description: 

Narragansett turkeys are large-bodied birds with long legs, long necks and large fan-shaped tails. Their plumage is mainly black with bands of gray and white edges. Tail feathers have lines of tan and gray. Their beak is light pinkish-gray, head and neck are not feathered and range from red to bluish-white. Heavy skin wattles under chin extend down the front of the neck. Males have spurs on their legs and a beard of long, thin, black feathers that hang from the chest. Legs and feet are pinkish-gray. The males have a fleshy growth near the nostrils called a snood. Males, known as toms or gobblers, may stand up to 48” tall and weigh up to 30 pounds. Females, called hens, are not as tall as males and weigh about 18 pounds. Turkeys have good eyesight and hearing. Turkeys can communicate with each other using up to 15 different vocalizations, as well as physical displays. They are swift runners, fast fliers and like to roost in trees at night.

Habitat: 

Hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes. In a farm setting, birds are normally allowed to forage over a large area.

Range: 

Domestic farms throughout New England and Midwestern states. These turkeys have become more popular across the country as more people show an interest in the varieties of turkey from the past, whether as an addition to the family farm or for food.

Diet: 

Vegetation such as grains, seeds, nuts, acorns, berries, fruits, and leaves, as well as ground-dwelling insects, small amphibians and reptiles. Young turkeys depend almost entirely on insects and grass seeds for food during their first few months.

Life Span: 

Up to 14 years.

Family Life: 

Courtship begins in early spring when toms attempt to attract hens by gobbling and strutting. They fan their tails out, lower the wings and drag them on the ground. They will also throw their head back and shake their feathers. Hens will scratch out a shallow depression on the ground. The average clutch is 10 light tan eggs with brown specks. The young, called poults, can walk and feed themselves after only 24 hours and can fly at 6 weeks old. Narragansett hens are known for being very caring and protective mothers. Poults may stay with their moms for up to a year.