Understanding Common Turkey Calls

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Understanding a turkey’s vocabulary will help you become better at calling turkeys and enjoy more success in the field. Photo by Andrew Johnson

Staff reports

Wild turkeys use an assortment of vocalizations, and understanding how different calls are used in a turkey’s world can help you become a better hunter.

Here is a breakdown of their most common calls:

• Cluck: The cluck is one short, staccato note. Turkeys will often string together two or three single-note clucks. Typically, turkeys cluck to get the attention of another turkey. Some observers say the cluck is the turkey equivalent of saying, “Where are you?”

• Putt: The putt is one sharp note. Turkeys usually utter a putt when they see or sense danger not to necessarily warn other turkeys, but essentially to tell a predator it has been spotted and shouldn’t waste its time. Often, turkeys will utter several consecutive putts when alarmed.

• Tree yelp: These soft, muffled yelps are the first calls uttered in the morning by roosted birds. Turkeys use them to communicate with other birds in a flock. They might also cluck softly on the roost and sometimes increase the volume of their tree yelps as flydown nears.

• Plain yelp: The two-note yelp might be the most basic turkey sound. Turkeys often utter yelps in a series. The meaning of yelping differs. Turkeys often use yelping to locate other turkeys. Incidentally, hens and gobblers both yelp, but a gobbler’s yelp is deeper, coarser and slower-paced than that of a hen.

• Cutting: This is a series of fast, loud, erratic clucks, often used by turkeys that are agitated or seeking companionship.

• Assembly yelp: Adult hens assemble their broods with a long series of loud yelps.

• Cackle: Turkeys usually cackle when flying, whether they’re flying up to roost, pitching down in the morning or sailing across a creek. A cackle usually features three to 10 irregular cluck-like notes.

• Kee-kee: This nasal, ascending three-note whistle is the basic lost call of young turkeys. A kee-kee run is simply a kee-kee with a yelp or two at the end.

• Purring: This is often a soft, rolling call used by feeding turkeys. Some say it’s a call of contentment, but most observers believe purring is a call of spatial relations. In other words, as a turkey feeds it purrs to tell others in the flock that this is its space. Turkeys also purr aggressively when agitated or fighting for dominance in the pecking order.

• Cluck and purr: Feeding turkeys often combine a soft cluck with light purring.

• Gobbling: The old gobble is the only true mating call of the turkey, and it’s the main vocalization of the tom in spring. Male turkeys gobble to attract hens and assert their place in the pecking order.