Immigrant Turkeys

That’s right.  Turkeys are not supposed to be here.  North Dakota is a bit too far north of their natural historic range of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.  It was generally assumed that North Dakota’s winters limited the ability for turkeys to thrive here.

About 60 years ago, they were introduced into the Missouri, Knife, and Heart river ecosystems.  Then they spread.  Everywhere.

We find turkeys in the Badlands near tree breaks along open areas that have access to water.

Where are the turkeys?

From the prairies of central North Dakota to the Badlands of North Dakota, you’ll find the birds walking with jerks and spasms through the trees and brush. Typically, they weigh about 15 pounds. That means good eating when the annual turkey hunting season in North Dakota puts a large number of these birds on the Thanksgiving Table.

Typical turkey habitat in North Dakota consists of riparian corridors and woody draws with adequate roost trees, forage and nesting and brood-rearing habitat. In North Dakota, turkeys are found along the Missouri River and other major river systems in the state, the badlands in Billings and McKenzie counties, the pine forest in Slope County and the woodlands in Dunn, Pembina and Bottineau counties. North Dakota Game and Fish Department


Our backroad adventures often take us through turkey neighborhoods. These in McKenzie County.


Transplanting has extended the distribution. As a result, now you can find them north to Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Alberta; west to Utah, Nevada, and California; northwest to Oregon and Washington; and northeast to Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Manitoba. Here’s the scoop.


Not all the turkeys in the state are wild. Some ranchers and farmers keep a few domestic turkeys on hand to control insects.

Here’s a fun fact, compliments of the Bismarck Tribune:

Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.


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If you visit the Badlands and see a turkey flock, they will have their backs turned to you. That’s because they are getting away — they saw you before you saw them. They have very keen eyesight and are much smarter than their domesticated cousins.


The birds are part of the wildlife ecosystem in the North Dakota Badlands. Here is a sample of other animals of the Badlands.  Browse and shop images, wall art, and other products at

Looking for events this holiday season?

Our Things to Do Page is a comprehensive calendar of events.  Here are 10 resources you can use to narrow your event search for events and activities in Western North Dakota and Eastern Montana.


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