It’s turkey time, and I don’t mean on the dinner table. That time will come soon enough. I’m talking about the time to highlight a few facts about the wild turkey ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
One of the most important facts about the wild turkey is the species was nearly wiped out due to deforestation and overhunting. There are now roughly seven million wild turkeys and they occur in every state except Alaska. It is a successful conservation story thanks in large part to reintroduction programs.
According to N.H. Fish and Game, there were no wild turkeys in the state 150 years ago. The bird returned to the Granite State thanks to reintroduction programs in the 1970s. New Hampshire now has more than 25,000 wild turkeys, and they may be found in every county.
Turkeys can indeed fly. Many people think they cannot fly because they are most often seen walking or running. They don’t typically fly long distances, but they can achieve relatively high speeds (about 55 miles per hour) in short bursts. Domesticated turkeys do not fly because they are bred to be much heavier than their wild cousins.
Turkeys sleep in trees. Getting off the ground to sleep offers protection from predators. They would be easy prey snoozing on the ground.
I haven’t confirmed this myself, but I have seen it in several sources: A turkey’s sex can be determined by its droppings. A male’s dropping is shaped like a J and a female’s dropping is shaped like a spiral. Or, you can look at the turkey itself. Males are generally larger and darker than females. Also, males have more pronounced wattles and a beard growing from their chest. Females can also have a beard, however. Only males gobble. Females yelp and cluck.
Adult female wild turkeys are called hens and males are gobblers or toms. Young females are called jennies and young males are called jakes. All chicks are called poults.
A turkey’s head changes color depending on its mood, going from red to blue. The more intense the color, the more intense their mood — kind of like when humans get red-faced because of anger or embarrassment or some other emotion.
Ben Franklin thought the wild turkey was a more noble bird than the bald eagle, which he thought of as a bird of “bad moral character.” By contrast, he wrote that the wild turkey is a “bird of courage.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean he campaigned to make the wild turkey the national symbol, as is often reported.
Turkeys eat mostly plant matter such as seeds, grass, berries, corn, oats, alfalfa and buckwheat, but they also eat insects. In fact, a wild turkey can eat around 200 ticks a day. As if we needed another reason to like turkeys.
Take time to reflect on the things you are thankful for this week. I am grateful for all of you. A column doesn’t exist without the support of its readers. Happy Thanksgiving.