Wild Turkeys

Two Black Turkeys

Almost everyone knows that Ben Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be our national symbol, rather than the bald eagle. But do you know why? Well, it appears that in those days everywhere you looked there was a wild turkey strutting about. Not only that, but he admired the beautiful mating display once the male’s tail feathers were unfurled in all their glory. Additionally, the familiar”gobble, gobble” further endeared the wild turkey to Old Ben.

Nowadays we are more comfortable with the domesticated white turkey that we enjoy at Thanksgiving. By the way, why is the domestic turkey white? Many years ago our wild turkey was bred with the Mexican turkey leading to the color change. There is still evidence of the wild turkey in the dark brown tail tips of the kind we eat today.

If You Feed Wild Turkeys?

There’s a long-standing controversy over whether people should interfere with the natural course of things. However, turkeys forage for food on the forest floor. They scratch at the dirt and overturn leaves and branches. When you’ve got a foot of snow covered by a layer of ice, it’s extremely tough to do any scratching for food. That is why I am a strong advocate of gathering acorns in the autumn so that I can leave them under my bird feeders for the turkeys when snow is heavy. I also scatter sunflower seeds and cracked corn in addition to the snow to the wild turkeys. I get a great satisfaction from helping them to survive the worst winter conditions.

What Else Do Wild Turkeys Eat?

Besides acorns, they love the other kinds of nuts: hickory nuts, hazel nuts, butternuts, etc.. Fruit is another component of their diet, in addition to sunflower and other flower and weed seeds, insects and salamanders. We have plenty of salamanders hiding under stones in our woods, and there’s no shortage of insects either.

Where Do Turkeys Sleep?

I’ll never forget one morning when I started up in the woods for a walk. I had disturbed a flock of wild turkeys that was roosting in the tall white pines! They are far safer there than on the ground where foxes, wild dogs, coyotes, etc. find them easy night prey.

How Fast Can They Fly?

They can also run. Their top running speed is 20 mph! They maintain a good steady walking pace also. Covering a few miles a day is normal for them.

How Many Infants Do They Have?

A female turkey will choose a bush in the woods under which she’ll lay a clutch of tan and brown speckled eggs from 4 to 17 in number. Mama will indulge her girls by feeding them, but just for the first couple of days. She roosts on the ground with her infants, also known as’poults’, during this time. After that they are on their own and quickly learn to forage for themselves. But, her young will travel with her at a flock all year right through the winter.

Male turkeys are quiet, secretive and elusive most of the time. However when they want to secure their harem of hens, they make clucking and peeping sounds, and sometimes a low drumming comes from deep in their throats.

The female is a drab brown/black color and quite thin in the spring. But come autumn all the turkeys take on a much plumper shape. Turkeys have a ‘wattle’, which is a flap of skin under their chin. Another flap of skin that hangs over their beaks is called a’snood’. Both may turn bright red once the turkey is agitated or excited.

How Heavy Do Wild Turkeys Grow?

Having to make their way from the wild retains turkeys slimmer than their domestic counterparts. They will weigh from 5 to 19 lbs. Their body measures a hefty 3- to nearly 4 feet with a wingspan of 4 to almost 5 feet! Domestic turkeys weigh twice as much as wild turkeys and are much too heavy to fly.

How Long Do Turkeys Live?

The average life span of a turkey in the wild is only three or four years. Considering all the predators out there and the survival challenges, you can see why that is the case.

Also, their territories are decreasing rapidly. Their fondness for hardwood forests which are connected to grassy fields provides them with good food resources, roosting and hiding areas. Unfortunately, hardwood forests are being cut down to supply materials for human habitation.

Despite their size, these terrific birds can take into the air in an explosive burst of speed. They could turn their heads up to 270 degrees, and they have excellent vision and hearing. They could dazzle us with their courtship dances and displays.

I think Old Ben was right. They would have made an superb national symbol! Gobble, Gobble!

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