Do Turkeys Sleep in Trees? Yes But Not Like You Expect (Where Turkeys Sleep)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Animals | March 19, 2024

Woman looking at a turkey on the ground that is looking at a tree and wondering do turkeys sleep in trees and where do turkeys sleep, and can turkeys fly into trees?

If you’ve ever wondered do turkeys sleep in trees like other birds such as owls? The answer may surprise you.

Wild turkeys do indeed prefer treetops when night falls, but they don’t sleep the way you may expect. There’s no nest in the tree, simply a roost.

This animal is an important link the forest ecosystem. And, knowing the answer to, do turkeys sleep in trees, can help you appreciate this beautiful bird, and realize why protecting old growth forests is so crucial.

How Do Turkeys Sleep?

So, how do turkeys sleep? These US native birds tuck their heads into their feathers while sleeping, which makes for quite a startling sight.1

It’s not unusual for people to approach and stare up at sleeping turkeys to see if they’re still alive.

Where Do Turkeys Sleep?

Where do turkeys sleep in general?

It’s no secret that turkey meat is a staple of the American diet, especially around Thanksgiving.

Captive birds are raised on turkey farms, where they sleep in specifically-created brooders.

A large turkey showing its dark feathers and bronze or brown tail, standing on grassy field.

(Image: Mohann19)

The entire farming process is disturbing, especially for animal activists, because turkeys are typically slaughtered at the tender age of 5 months.

Wild turkeys lead much better lives and freely sleep in trees at night where they are mostly protected from natural predators.2

Where Do Baby Turkeys Sleep?

So, where do baby turkeys sleep?

Baby turkeys (called poults) are usually found snoozing inside a nest on the ground. Should they hatch on the ground, their mother will gently scoot them inside the protective straw nest, using her wings.

The mother also covers the poults with her wings to keep them warm and calm. Baby turkeys mostly sleep for two weeks after they hatch, before their eyes open and they start walking.

While the poults are still unable to reach tree branches, their mother and other family members stay on the ground with them to protect them from wild animals.

A group of young and  turkey chicks showing their brown feathers, walking on grassland.

As soon as the baby turkeys are big enough to roost in trees, the entire turkey family joins them there too.3

Can Turkeys Fly Into Trees?

How can turkeys fly into trees?

If you watch a turkey on the ground, it seems highly unlikely that it can fly, right? After all, they sort of shuffle around, when they’re not slouching around.

Don’t let their laziness fool you, not only can wild turkeys fly, but they can reach flying speeds of up to 55 miles per hour in short stints.4

This enables them to get a strong enough lift-off from the ground to reach the top of their favorite tree.

Sadly, domesticated turkeys (farmed) are unable to fly because they’re genetically modified to weigh more for the dinner table.5

Do Turkeys Sleep in Trees?

Many people wonder, do turkeys sleep in trees all night?

A large turkey perched on a log showing its back with black feathers and tail with bronze and black feathers.

(Image: Skyler Ewing20)

Turkeys are night-blind, so when dusk falls, they fly up into their chosen tree, where they roost with their heads inside their feathers until dawn.

They are not a nocturnal animal, but are preyed on, especially when hatching and caring for poults in the ground, during the night hours by foxes and other predators.

Do Turkeys Roost in the Same Tree Every Night?

While some turkeys prefer to sleep in the same tree every night, others are far pickier and seek out different trees almost every night.

Turkeys also prefer the highest branches, so they’ll fly up as high as their wings will carry them.6

What Type of Tree Do Turkeys Prefer?

Wild turkeys prefer sleeping in large trees, even though you won’t find them inside the woods. You’ll typically spot them roosting as high up as 30 feet in Sycamore, Oak, Pine, and Cottonwood trees.

This means turkey watchers will find their favorite wild bird roosting in trees throughout the eastern United States.

What State Has the Most Trees?

Speaking of trees in the US– what state has the most trees (and not just for turkey roosting)?

Flock of wild turkeys in the Great Smoky Mountains foothills.

You might think that Maine still holds the top spot, but it’s Alaska that takes the honors when it comes to having the most trees per state in the US.

In fact, Alaska boasts 43.401 trees per capita and a whopping total of nearly 32 billion trees throughout the state.7,8

Sycamore tree is native to the eastern US, which is perfect for tree-loving turkeys. Also, around 90 species of Oak tree grow in the United States, which is even more good news for turkeys who don’t want to sleep on the ground.


Sycamore tree showing its crown with large branches with dark green foliage.

(Image: Hans21)

Low-angle shot of Oak tree showing its trunk with vertical and deep fissures and foliage with different hues of green.

(Image: PIX186122)

What State Has the Most Wild Turkeys?

Wild turkeys can be found in all states, except for Alaska which is ironic considering the state’s impressive tree population.9

It makes sense though because Alaska is far too cold for these birds to survive.

A group of young domesticated turkeys with grayish head and brown, black, and bronze feathers.

(Image: Olid5623)

Texas is where you’ll find the most turkeys, around 500,000 of them to be exact.


StateTurkey Population
FloridaUp to 700,000
New Hampshire50,000
New Jersey23,000
New Mexico20,000
New York160,000
North Carolina270,000
North Dakota22,000
Rhode Island5,000
South Carolina100,000
South Dakota50,000
West Virginia100,000

How Many Trees Are in the United States?

For those asking, how many trees are in the United States, North America is fourth on the global list of countries with the most trees, boasting a tree how do turkeys sleep population of nearly 228 billion.10

Topping that list is Russia, with nearly half of the country’s landmass covered in trees.

Second is Canada with nearly 320 billion trees and 40% forest cover, and in third place is Brazil with just over 300 billion trees, most of which are found in the Amazon rainforest here.11

Why Do Turkeys Sleep in Trees?

With all this tree talk, why do turkeys sleep in trees anyway?

The main reason turkeys roost in trees at night is that their excellent vision wanes when it gets dark. During the day turkeys observe the world in color and can take in their surroundings up to 270 degrees, which means their field of vision is up to three times wider than that of humans.

Turkeys can’t see in 3D, but they make up for this by continuously moving their heads up and down.

Their poor night vision compels turkeys to sleep high up in the trees, far away from prowling predators.12

Wild turkeys are susceptible to toxic plants, however, with some dangerous trees including Pine and Cedar.

Pine trees contain phenols that could pose health issues for turkeys, While Cedar is known to cause breathing problems.

Wild Turkey Facts

Turkeys are amazing birds and have even been compared to house pets such as dogs and cats.

Gaggle of wild turkeys along a gravel road in the woods of the foothills of the Smoky Mountain national park, Tn.

Here are some wild facts about this underestimated bird:

  • Turkeys are incredibly social animals and form bonds with their human owners. This is just another reason turkey farming is such a horrendous practice.
    While living in heartbreaking and terrible conditions, turkeys still love their ‘owners’, only to be slaughtered anyway.
  • There are distinct differences between male and female turkeys, but if you’re wondering what do only male turkeys do, they actually grow beards!13
  • If you’re trying to figure out whether the turkey that visits your backyard is male or female without getting too close, you can have a look at their poop. Male turkey poop is shaped like the letter ‘J’, while female turkey poop looks like little spirals.
  • Wild turkey families behave like human families, especially after a long night. They call out to one another every morning to make sure no turkey was left behind in the trees, or attacked by flying predators while sleeping.
  • If you’re thinking of getting a turkey for a pet, you’ll have a friend for life. Turkeys bond with humans like cats and dogs do, and will even start running toward you when you get home from work.
  • Turkeys can become emotionally overwhelmed, which in turn causes their heads to turn into shades of blue or red. When they calm down, their heads turn white again.
  • Benjamin Franklin was a huge fan of turkeys, telling his daughter that he believed it was a far better icon for the US than the bald eagle. Franklin believed that turkeys were far more intelligent than anyone gave them credit for, and a lot braver than the bald eagle could ever be.
  • Guinea fowls were once mistaken for turkeys, and given the name ‘turkey cocks’. When turkeys were brought to Europe, they became extremely popular and were also referred to as ‘cocks’ before the name was eventually shortened.
  • A long time ago, indigenous tribes in America would use turkey legs as weapons. This is because male turkeys have small, sharp bony lumps on their legs that fit perfectly on war arrows.14
  • In the 1800s, turkeys nearly went extinct because of excessive hunting and deforestation. They were brought back from the brink only to almost vanish again in the 1930s, because of ongoing hunting practices.15
  • About 70,000,000 turkeys are killed in America for Thanksgiving and Christmas every single year.16

Even though turkeys are not endangered (yet), this constant turkey killing is contributing to the carbon footprint of meat.

Carbon Footprint of Meat

In the US, more than 2.2% of all emissions are produced through the processing of red meat. While that doesn’t sound too terrible, consider this: More than 1.1 tons of global CO2 emissions can be linked directly to meat consumption.17

These figures don’t even cover the 14.5% of GHG emissions released by livestock farming. The methane released by farm cows has a global warming potential of up to 300 times that of CO2.

Related Reading: Meat Carbon Footprint Facts

Beef remains the largest source of GHG emissions, with chicken and fish coming in slightly lower on the list. So, where do turkeys fit in?

Turkey meat is often grouped together with other poultry meat. The carbon footprint of this so-called white meat is not as big as that of red meat, but its impact on the environment shouldn’t be ignored.

Related Reading: Carbon Footprint Chicken

The carbon footprint of the average Thanksgiving dinner plays a role in the overall CO2 footprint of all meat production. Turkeys form the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, and the cooked bird can emit around 7 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilogram.

Group of wild turkeys with poults during summer in the foothills of the Smoky Mountain National Park.

That’s not even considering the emissions caused by leaving the turkey to cook in the oven for four hours or the stuffing which accounts for at least 25 pounds of carbon dioxide.18

That said, avoiding having turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is about more than just CO2 emissions.

Turkey farms are often found to be in horrific conditions and workers are forced to perform their tasks regardless of the hazardous health risks posed by poultry dust.

Processed turkey meat has been linked to terminal illnesses including colon cancer and stomach cancer, while the terrible farming conditions also cause turkey meat to become compromised by serious bacteria such as Salmonella and even E. coli.

Even though turkey farming and hunting aren’t likely to slow down in the coming years, there is something that you as an individual can do to help stop the animals from enduring suffering, including choosing a vegan dinner during the holidays and spreading the word about cruel turkey farming techniques.

The next time you hear someone ask, do turkeys sleep in trees, you can tell them yes, they do, and not only to escape natural predators but other predators too.

Frequently Asked Questions About Do Turkeys Sleep in Trees


Do Turkeys Sleep in Trees?

Turkeys sleep in the highest branches they can fly up to, to avoid becoming a meal to their natural predators on the ground. They sleep by tucking their heads into their feathers or underneath a wing.


How Many Trees To Offset 1 Ton of CO2?

To those asking, how many trees to offset 1 ton of CO2, it takes up to 46 trees to offset a single ton of CO2. This is because the offset rate can vary up to 31.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide per tree.



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