Turkeys are large, heavy birds that don’t do much flying, and they spend most of their day foraging on the ground. Although it may be surprising, turkeys can fly and have been recorded flying in short bursts up to 35 mph! But what about at night; when they need to sleep? Where do they go? Turkey hens sitting on eggs or with very young poults will spend nights in their nests on the ground, but at all other times, both male and female turkeys and even poults as young as a few weeks old will sleep in trees.
This is why turkeys can fly, albeit only in short bursts. When the sun goes down, they need to fly up to tree branches to roost. Commercial turkeys like the Broad Breasted White turkey, however, are different. Since they’ve been bred to be bigger and heavier than their wild counterparts, they cannot fly or only fly very low at best.
Since turkeys spend so much of their time on the ground, it’s a common myth that they also sleep on the ground at night. But wild turkeys spend their nights roosting in trees, where they are safe from predators. Turkeys cannot see well in the dark, and tree branches provide a safe, elevated space to sleep where most predators cannot get to them. In the wild, the main predators of turkeys are coyotes, foxes, and snakes, so trees offer a safe space largely out of reach of these animals.
When the sun comes up, turkeys call to one another with soft yelps to make sure all is well and the rest of the flock is okay before descending and carrying on with another day on the ground foraging for food.
The only time that turkeys don’t sleep in trees is when they’re nesting or kept in captivity. Turkey hens build their nests and lay their eggs on the ground, and it can take up to 28 days for eggs to hatch. Of course, this is when turkeys are most vulnerable to predators and largely the reason that female turkeys have shorter lifespans on average than males. Once the eggs have hatched, it takes another 10-14 days before the poults can fly and roost in trees with their mother hens.
Under human care, turkeys are typically larger and heavier than wild turkeys and cannot fly as well. They are typically kept indoors in nesting boxes or brooders and have no predators to worry about, so they seldom have the need to sleep in trees. That said, if there are trees around that they’re able to fly into, they will most likely prefer to sleep in them.
How Do Turkeys Sleep in Trees Without Falling?
Turkeys in the wild are highly adapted to sleeping in trees. When turkeys are ready to sleep for the night, they will fly onto their preferred branch and squat down slightly, which causes their strong toes to wrap around the branch and keep them from falling over. Turkeys don’t usually sleep in the same tree or on the same branch every night, as they tend to move around frequently, but if they live in an environment with plenty of water and an abundance of food, they will likely favor a tree or group of trees.
Turkeys prefer trees with plenty of horizontal branches that are thick enough to roost on. Oaks, sycamores, and cottonwoods are the most common choices. Turkeys also tend to roost fairly high in the tree — up to 30 feet at times — and in trees where there is a thick trunk and few branches lower down to deter predators.
While turkeys prefer to sleep in trees, they do not usually live in forests. Since turkeys are not expert flyers, they cannot fly through densely forested areas and instead choose isolated trees where there is open land nearby to land and forage.
Turkeys do sleep in trees! Unless the hens are sitting on eggs or they are domesticated, turkeys sleep in trees every night to avoid predators because they cannot see well in the dark. Turkeys sleep on branches up to 30 feet in the air that they fly to at night. They prefer isolated trees near open spaces over dense forests. Under human care, turkeys may occasionally sleep in trees but are generally kept in purpose-built brooders.