In light of Thanksgiving, We just wanted to pass on good wishes to everyone along with some information on the bird that was almost our national bird, the Wild Turkey. This is the bird that President Benjamin Franklin wanted as our national bird. It is indeed a beautiful bird, especially if you see it in flight as shown in some of the pictures below. In flight they can reach a speed of 50 miles per hour!
The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is native to North America and is the heaviest member of the diverse Galliformes. It is the same species as the domestic turkey, which was originally derived from a southern Mexican subspecies of wild turkey (not the related ocellated turkey). Although native to North America, the turkey probably got its name from the domesticated variety being imported to Britain in ships coming from the Levant via Spain. The British at the time therefore, associated the wild turkey with the country Turkey and the name stuck. >>> Read more Wild Turkey
The Wild Turkey is the largest game bird native to North America. The male (approximately 18 pounds) is substantially larger than the female (approximately 8 pounds). They average 3 1/2 feet in length with a wingspan of 4 3/4 feet.
The male bird has an iridescent body of red, purple, green, copper, bronze and gold and typically has a beard averaging 9 inches long. His flight feathers are barred with white, he has red waddles and his bare skinned head is blue and pink. Female feathers are duller overall, in shades of brown and gray.
Although turkeys often feed in woods, for mating they move to areas that provide visibility such as open woods, fields, pastures and shrubby growth using their excellent eyesight to spot danger. Open areas near woods or brush give displaying males and the females they attract a quick means of escape.
Hens nest on the ground at the base of a tree or shrub or in tall grass. At night they roost in trees. Wild Turkeys are omnivorous, foraging mostly on the ground. They prefer eating acorns and nuts of various trees, including hazelnuts, chestnuts, hickory and pinyon pine. They also eat various seeds and berries such as juniper and bear berries as well as insects. They also eat a wide variety of grasses which make up around 80% of their diet.
The Wild Turkey doesn’t look or act much like the domestic bird we usually consume for our Thanksgiving dinner these days. They are much smarter and quicker than the farmyard birds. The range and numbers of the Wild Turkey had decreased at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and loss of habitat. Attempts to use game farm turkeys for reintroduction programs failed, however in the 1940’s, wild birds were caught and transported to new areas, where they quickly became established and flourished. These birds now inhabit 49 states and several Canadian provinces.
As Washington Post and NPR reported on Thanksgiving this year, after being nearly wiped out in the 1900s, there has been an incredible wild turkey rebound in the United States. More than 7 million wild turkeys now roam the country, the result of an extraordinary conservation effort. They have started to make a major come back.
“European explorers took Wild Turkeys to Europe from Mexico in the early 1500s. They were so successfully domesticated in Europe that English colonists brought them back with them when they settled on the Atlantic Coast. The domestic form has retained the white tail tip of the original Mexican subspecies, and that character can be used to distinguish wandering barnyard birds from wild turkeys which have chestnut-brown tail tips.” (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wild_Turkey/lifehistory) So does this one have a brown or white tip? I think brown, but can’t be sure…
“Male wild turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings as shown above. This behavior is most commonly referred to as strutting. Their heads and necks are colored brilliantly with red, blue and white. The color can change with the turkey’s mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited. They use gobbling, drumming/booming and spitting as signs of social dominance, and to attract females. Courtship begins during the months of March and April, which is when turkeys are still flocked together in winter areas.”
“Wild turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. They will eat foods such as acorns, nuts and seeds, as well as berries such as juniper, roots and insects. Turkeys also occasionally consume amphibians and small reptiles such as lizards and snakes.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Turkey#Foraging)
“Predators of eggs and nestlings include Raccoons, Virginia Opossums, Striped Skunks, Gray foxes,birds of prey and Groundhogs. Predators of both adults and young include Coyotes, Bobcats, Cougars, Golden Eagles, Great Horned Owls, Dogs, and red foxes. Humans are now the leading predator of adult turkeys.”
“The male Wild Turkey provides no parental care. When the eggs hatch, the chicks follow the female. She feeds them for a few days, but they quickly learn to feed themselves. Several hens and their broods may join up into bands of more than 30 birds. Winter groups have been seen to exceed 200.”
“Turkey nests have been found in a variety of habitats. Sites are selected for their undergrowth characteristics. Nests are often found at the base of trees or against fallen logs. Hens will often select a nest site near a trail or open area. This allows for access to the nest and the trail or open area may be used for a feeding area during incubation. The nests are a shallow depression formed mostly by scratching, squatting, and laying eggs. Most hens lay one egg a day, and have a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs.” (http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/Articles/turkeynest.htm)
The Distribution of the Wild Turkey