Bird Profiles Wild Turkey

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The North American Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is a highly adaptable, wily game bird.  They live in conditions extremely varied, from the Southwest, including Texas and the Gulf, then eastward through Florida and the Carolinas

, and northward through Arkansas, Missouri and up into Pennsylvania and New England.  The turkey has adapted itself to live in lowlands of sea level humidity contrasting with the high pine forests above 7000 feet in altitude, with snowy winters.  One sub-species loves the hardwood forests of Pennsylvania.  The indigenous Texas turkeys are named after the Rio Grande.  Their range is impressive, as the Geographic has illustrated.

Whichever race of turkey, they have proven themselves survivors.  Once scarce by the early 1900’s, they are now more prolific, thanks to a reintroduction program started in the 1940’s.  In spite of being hunted in several seasons, the population has grown and the range is more wide..  Mostly hunted from blinds, using calls, the turkey will roost high in trees.  They can fly surprisingly well for such an awkward-looking bird, large bird. 

Wild turkeys are more streamlined and darker than the domestic turkey, with whom they will interbreed if allowed.  Adult wild toms average much less weight than their domestic relatives, with more narrow heads, much less dramatic wattles and less flashy tail-feathers, especially the Eastern ones with chestnut-brown tail-feather tips.   The meat is leaner, slightly gamier.  Otherwise, the wild and domestic turkeys are quite similar in habits and breeding.  The distinctive gobble noise is another shared trait.  Checkout the sound and their images at University’s ornithology site.

Turkeys are comical to watch, as they more or less tumble from trees quite ungracefully.  They are considered ground-dwellers, but that’s part of their surprising survival mystique.  They love wild grapes and grasshoppers, feeding well in both forest and fields.  In the Eastern forests, they seek the cove formations, with the hemlock and rhododendron-covered north sides of mountains and lots of shadows to hide in.  Of course, they love cornfields everywhere.  Turkeys are omnivores.

Flocks of wild turkeys have been reintroduced in some areas, yet one thinks they have survived on their own with large families, 4-17 chicks at a time, and excellent hiding skills.  They are difficult to hunt, and it is legal in some states to shoot them with either shotgun or rifle.  Nevertheless, it is common for them to simply disappear when the spring or fall season comes. 

Bren Franklin wanted to honor this native bird with United States National Bird status.  While the wild turkey may not soar like the eagle, it is a true symbol of the bounty and endurance of this nation.

 Hagerbaumer, David with Lehman, Sam;  Selected American Game Birds;  Caxton Printers Ltd, Caldwell, Idaho, USA; c. 1972



60 years of living with hunters

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