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From pilgrim times to modern day, one of the most recognizable symbols of Thanksgiving is the wild turkey. Turkeys have been considered the main course for the November holiday dinners for centuries.
Most people know little about this recognizable bird. There’s more to wild turkeys than just a holiday meal.
The wild turkey has come a long way. Early populations were considered easy prey and quickly became a delicacy to settlers. This was a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t until the mid 1900s that laws were put in place to protect wild turkeys. Thanks to organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, the turkey’s revival has been labeled one of the greatest comebacks in the history of conservation. Of the 50 United States, only Alaska has no turkey population.
Hens, jakes, and toms group together to form a flock. Jakes are young males. Toms are two years old or older. All females are called hens.
Wild turkeys are social animals that use a variety of sounds to communicate. Some noises are clucks, purrs, “kee-kees,” cackles and gobbles. The basic call that all turkeys make is a yelp. The most famous, of course, is the gobble, which only males can do. The sound is designed to attract hens. Upon hearing a gobble in the spring, hens seek out toms.
Many defenses allow the wild turkey to survive. The birds make up for their limited sense of smell with keen eyesight. Their hearing also is excellent. Adult wild turkeys are equipped with 5,000 to 6,000 feathers, which form a shield against bad weather and predators.
A running speed of up to 19 mph is usually their first line of defense. For safety at nighttime, turkeys fly up into tree locations, called roosting sites. At daybreak, the birds fly down and begin their day eating, drinking and enjoying the great outdoors.
The wild turkey diet consists of nuts, berries, seeds, insects and farm crops.
Each male turkey is equipped with a beard that grows out of its chest. The beard is made of bristles and grows as the turkey matures. Even female turkeys, about one of every 10, grow a beard.
Whether you have an appetite for wild turkey, or just enjoy observing, this bird is gobbling good to have around.
Above: A hen turkey pecks at bugs as three tom tukeys puff out their feathers, fan their tails and strut for her in Jefferson County.
Tim Beaumont is an elementary school teacher in southwest Allen County. He’s an avid outdoorsman and enjoys teaching conservation awareness by using the wild turkey species as an example.
Create your own turkey tail feather with a few simple materials. This activity will bring you closer to nature and is an easy way to say thanks.