With Thanksgiving only two days away, we thought it would be interesting to focus on the focal bird of the day…the Wild Turkey.
You may know that young turkeys are called “poult” or that the President of the United States has been “pardoning” a turkey prior to Thanksgiving, since…well, according to whitehousehistory.org the history of the first pardon is not quite clear. The practice has been attributed back to the Truman administration but didn’t firmly take hold until the Reagan administration, in 1981. President George H. W. Bush was apparently the first president to announce the pardon of the turkey, stating “But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy – he’s granted a Presidential pardon as of right now.” One fact that many students learn in grade school is that Benjamin Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be our national symbol.
Other turkey facts you may know: the “hangy” thing that droops over the turkey’s beak is called a snood, males are called toms, females are hens, and young males are called jakes. Turkeys have beards as well. Their beard is actually modified feathers that hang from the turkey’s breast and can be used to age the turkey to an extent. Did you know that 10%+ of female turkeys will also have beards?
Here are some Turkey Trivia Giblets, er, Tidbits that you can amaze your family and friends with on your Thanksgiving Day Zoom call.
1. There are 5 subspecies of "Wild" Turkey found in the US and Mexico, and another species found in Central America.
a. Eastern Wild Turkey- is found in 38 of the 48 continental US states.
b. Osceola Wild Turkey- only found in Florida, named for the Osceola region in the state.
c. Rio Grande Wild Turkey- found primarily in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
There is also a population of this subspecies in Mexico.
d. Merriam’s Wild Turkey- this subspecies is found in the mountains of the western US.
e. Gould’s Wild Turkey- resides in Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico.
f. Ocellated Wild Turkey- is a separate species of turkey found in a small area in the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, and Guatemala.
The photo in this post is an Ocellated Turkey from Guatemala. Thanks to Rob Ripma from Sabrewing Nature Tours for providing this image of a gorgeous turkey.
To learn more about Wild Turkey subspecies visit www.nwtf.org/hunt/article/wild-turkey-subspecies
2. Turkeys were almost extinct in the United States. Around the 1930’s it was estimated that less than 30,000 turkeys were left and they had been extirpated from 20 states. Thanks to conservation efforts and funds from the Pittman-Robertson Act, we now have a robust population estimated to be around 6 and a half million birds.
3. Turkeys are big birds. They weigh around 15 lbs., stand around 3.5 ft. tall and have a wing span of 5 ft. They also have a lot of feathers. It is estimated that turkeys have between 5,000 – 6,000 feathers!
4. Not only are they big, they are l-o-u-d, loud. A tom’s gobble can be heard around a mile away.
5. While we typically see turkeys lazily meandering around as they forage, they can actually be quite fast. Turkeys can hit running speeds up to 25 mph. Many think that they are flightless but they have been clocked at around 55 mph in flight.
6. Turkeys have a very wide field of vision. This is because their eyes are located on the sides of their head which allows them to spot danger from in front and behind. Due to this adaption, turkeys are a very hard game bird to hunt.
7. Turkeys are named after the country Turkey. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary web page, “When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the 16th century they encountered the already-domesticated common turkey, Meleagris gallopavo. They apparently liked the bird; turkeys were among the plunder they took back to Spain around 1519. By 1541, the birds had arrived in England. In those days the Turkish Ottoman Empire was at its peak, and the English had Turkey (with a capital-T) on their mind. The English gave the Turks credit for any number of new imports: maize was Turkish wheat, and pumpkins were Turkish cucumbers—though both were actually New World plants. To paraphrase Cindy Ott in her 2012 book Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon, if it was exotic, chances are it got a Turkish appellation. So the new bird was soon being called a turkey-cock, eventually shortened to turkey.”
We hope that you have enjoyed learning some new facts about one of our most enigmatic birds. There is still a lot to learn about Wild Turkeys. Take some time this Thanksgiving holiday to do some additional research and learn more about Wild Turkeys. Please share you turkey fact in the comment section. One thing is for sure, we should all be extremely thankful for this species.
Sources: National Wildlife Federation, Nation Wild Turkey Federation, American Expedition, Merriam-Webster.com & U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service