Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wild Turkeys-Happy Turkey Day!

Well, these birds may not be a common feeder bird unless you have a large yard out in the country, but it would be wrong of me not to cover them at such an apropos time. You may be one that only thinks turkeys are delicious... Mmmmm-oh, where was I! Actually, the Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo silvestris, is a pretty fascinating bird with an interesting historical and biological background.

Wild Turkeys were first domesticated by the Aztecs and Central Americans around 500 AD. They were then taken back to Spain by conquistadors in the 1500's, then they were imported into Europe and were brought back to North America as poultry in the 1600's. World traveler! We loved the taste of turkey so much that by the early 1930's they were almost wiped out. Luckily, through conservation efforts and wildlife management plans, the Wild Turkey is doing well. The Eastern subspecies has an estimated population of 5.1 to 5.3 million strong!

The Wild Turkey has a unique appearance. The males are big, 48 inches in length weighing 16-24 lbs, while the females are smaller, around 37 inches with a weight of 8-10 lbs. Both male and female turkeys have fleshy protuberances on their heads. Caruncles are more prominent in the males and become engorged with blood in the spring. Male or Tom turkeys have a wattle, a wrinkled, folded flap of skin which is on the neck. Both sexes have what is called a snood that hangs over the bill. The male's snood is much longer than the females. Turkeys also have a unique set of feathers called a beard. The beard, which has the appearance of hair, is located on the chest and is found mostly on males, but 10-20% of females can also have beards. The males beard is approximately 9 inches long, with the record turkey beard being 18 inches! ZZ Top turkey!

There is a belief that Ol' Ben Franklin himself thought the turkey would be a better choice for our national symbol over the bald eagle. Though there is some truth to the story, it really isn't what he had in mind. This belief arises from a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter, Sarah Bache, in 1784, in which he criticizes a veterans' organization (the American Order of the Cincinnati) for choosing the bald eagle as their emblem.

Franklin wrote :"Others object to the bald eagle [i.e., on the Cincinnati's emblem] as looking too much like a dindon, or turkey. For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living those among men who live by sharping and robbing...he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district...I am, on this account, not displeased that the figure [i.e., the Cincinnati's drawing] is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours...He is, besides, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that), a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on".

Not so much for the turkey as against the Bald Eagle, I would say!

On to more fascinating facts! (Many of these I have gathered from the National Wild Turkey Federation's site. Besides other interesting facts it has all kinds of turkey calls with names like "kee kee run", "purr" and "tree call" under "What does a wild turkey sound like?" Check it out!)

Did you know a turkey can run 25 miles per hour and fly 55 miles per hour? Amazing!

The largest turkey recorded was 37 lbs? That's the size of a kindergartner!

The males have brightly colored featherless heads which can change colors? During breeding season this can change from red to white to blue in a matter of seconds! Talk about patriotic! Let's see the eagle do that!

A turkey can see movement almost a hundred yards away? Wow!

A group of turkeys is called a rafter?

Well, I need to go gobble some turkey myself. Hope all of you have a great holiday!


No comments: