Turkeys are plump and heavy-set ground-dwelling birds with thick and impressive plumage. Turkeys are consumed in their millions at Christmas and Thanksgiving, but we shouldn't take these intelligent and affectionate birds for granted. Turkeys are also gregarious and sociable birds, so what is a group of turkeys called?
The most popular collective nouns for a group of turkeys are a rafter, a gaggle and a flock. Whilst flock is self-explanatory, rafter is perhaps the most unusual of the three terms and is thought to originate from the fact that turkeys sleep in trees and other high-up places. Turkeys also make gaggling noises, hence why groups of turkeys are often called gaggles.
There are many other names for groups of turkeys - read on to learn more about this gregarious, affectionate and emotionally sensitive bird.
A flock of wild Turkeys
A brood of turkeys
A crop of turkeys
A death row of turkeys
A dole of turkeys
A dule of turkeys
A gang of turkeys
A herd of turkeys
A mob of turkeys
A muster of turkeys
A posse of turkeys
A raffle of turkeys
A raft of turkeys
A school of turkeys
A thanksgiving of turkeys
A run of (wild) turkeys
A bachelor group of (wild male) turkeys
A posse of (wild male) turkeys
A standout term here is a death row of turkeys and you might have already guessed why and when this term might be used! According to the University of Illinois, some 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving, 22 million on Christmas and 19 million at Easter.
Groups of turkey males are often called bachelors at the start of the mating season when they begin to congregate with females. Juvenile male turkeys (Jakes) frequently gang up on adult male turkeys (Toms), hence why groups of turkeys are sometimes called gangs or mobs.
A group of wild turkeys searching for insects on the grass
It’s a good question and a tough one to answer!
There is no real consensus as to why a group of turkeys is called a rafter.
Rafters are eaves in the roof of a building and some claim that turkeys like to nest and roost in the rafters if they're able to do so. Despite being primarily ground-dwelling birds, turkeys like to perch on tree branches and roost up in the canopy or ‘rafters’ where they’re safe from predation.
Another theory is that the term rafter was adapted in Medieval English from Greek meaning ‘stitch together’ and it just so happened to be attached to groups of turkeys sometime in the 15th century.
The evidence is tenuous, to say the least, and the truth is, it’s very difficult to find a concrete answer on the etymology of the term rafters for a group of turkeys.
Turkeys roosting on dead branches of a tree
Many noisy birds that make gobbling or gaggling-type sounds are referred to as a gaggle. A key example here is geese - “a gaggle of geese” is a very well-known collective noun for a group of geese.
Turkeys are similarly noisy birds that are capable of producing a variety of gaggling and gobbling sounds. They have around 28 distinctive calls which are similar across all subspecies of turkeys.
The gurgling sound characteristic of male turkeys is actually called a gobble, though. Thus, it would probably be more logical to call a group of turkeys a gobble of turkeys rather than a gaggle!
For much of the year, turkeys flock together in gendered groups. The males form their own distinctive flocks and the females form their own distinctive flocks. Gendered turkey flocks are not usually too far away from each other and may number some 15 to 50 birds.
Like many other birds, turkeys flock to establish safety in numbers. With their wide variety of vocal calls, turkeys can efficiently scatter and regroup after sensing a threat.
Turkey flocks are also essential for breeding purposes. Flocks also help male turkeys compete for dominance, as a dominant male can mate with some 10 hens. Male turkeys often stay in their sibling groups as hens can brood as many as 10 to 12 chicks.
A large flock of turkeys in the wild
Turkeys form gendered flocks for much of the year but join up prior to the mating season in around March and April. After a few weeks, turkeys begin to split off into smaller mating flocks of males and multiple females. Nesting females become more secretive and will typically break away from males.
The social behaviours of turkeys are surprisingly complex. Dominance rituals amongst male groups are fierce and ongoing, but young males (called jakes) will also try and assert dominance amongst females until they’re able to join a male flock and compete with other males.
Male turkeys commonly stay in sibling groups and are known to be fiercely loyal to one another.
Once autumn and winter approach, both male and female turkeys begin to flock together once more before settling down into their roosts for the winter.
Three male turkeys strutting about
Turkey flocks are typically quite small numbering some 15 to 50 birds, but it really depends on the time of year. Once male and female flocks begin to congregate at the start of the breeding season, flocks can number some 100 to 200 birds. After a few weeks, the turkeys will start splitting off into breeding groups. Males and females then spend most of their time apart whilst females brood their chicks until autumn and winter, which is when turkeys begin to congregate prior to roosting.
A pair of turkeys has no specific name. Male turkeys are called gobbles or Toms, whereas juvenile males are called Jakes and juvenile females are called Jennys. Baby turkeys are called poults.
A pair of Turkeys
There is no specific name for a group of baby turkeys (poults). Turkey hens can lay up to 15 eggs and are vigilant and protective of their young. Brooding hens become quite secretive but still commonly flock together with other hens whilst nesting.
In the wild, turkeys have a strict and well-regimented dominance hierarchy which often results in fighting. However, affectionate and loyal behaviours between turkeys have also been well-noted.
When kept as pets, turkeys are known to be remarkably friendly and good-natured.
They recognise faces and form strong bonds with those who treat them well. Whilst it’s tempting to think of turkeys as little more than meat, a growing number of people now consider them ‘friends, not food’, much like other domesticated pets.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox