This is one of my favorite times of the year. Everything is popping and coming to life. The grass is green, trees are budding, and the turkey are gobbling. And, there’s nothing quite like being out in the woods and hearing the gobble of that big old tom; I mean that’s what we’re all waiting for, right? But, how much do you really know about these birds? No, this info isn’t going to help you bag a turkey; it’s just for fun. I decided there was no better way to kick off my new series on turkeys than to just share a few fun facts. So, here we go!
- Wild turkey were almost wiped out at one point. That’s right! Due to hunting and loss of habitat, the wild turkey was almost extinct here in the United States. Thanks to reintroduction programs, and continued work from organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the wild turkey population is estimated to be between 6 and 7 million!
- Benjamin Franklin loved this bird so much that he even suggested it be the national bird. And, while it was never truly ever in the running for this honor, if it had been up to him, the turkey would have replaced the bald eagle. Franklin referred to the wild turkey as respectable, courageous, vain, silly, and a true native of North America.
- The wild turkey was one of the first two domesticated birds in North America. So, who did the turkey share this honor with? It was the Muscovy duck. And, even though it was one of the first domesticated birds here in the states, these domesticated birds came from wild Mexican turkeys.
- Turkeys are fast! Just how fast? Well, they can outrun you for sure! Yes, turkeys can reach speeds up to 25 mph while on foot! And, while in air they can get up to 55 mph! Keep in mind though, this is a very short flight. These birds are heavy and cannot keep up speeds like that for long distances.
- Not only is the wild turkey fast, it is very loud. A turkey gobble can be heard from as far as a mile away!
- You can tell a turkeys’ sex by their droppings. Female droppings are spiral-shaped, and the male has j-shaped droppings. The larger in diameter, the older the bird. So, if you’re scouting that big ole tom, you’re going to want to take a close look at those droppings.
- Turkeys have over 5,000 feathers on their bodies. Wow, that’s a lot of plucking! But, so worth it when you’re enjoying that juicy bird on your dinner plate. And just like most birds, the male turkey is more colorful than the female.
- And, what about that colorful head? If you’ve ever seen a male turkey get excited, then you’ve seen the brilliant color change. A toms’ head can go from white to blue to red in only a few seconds. This is due to an increased blood flow to the head and neck during periods of excitement. If you’ve never seen it, you’re really missing out!
- Turkeys sleep in trees. In other words, they are arboreal. While they may look a little odd and uncomfortable up there, they are safe from their predators in the treetops. If you’re a hunter or even a bird watcher, you know the excitement of watching them fly down from their perch in the mornings.
- A group of turkeys is called a flock. Adult males are called toms and all females are hens. Babies are poults and young males are called jakes.
- Males gobble and females cluck, but there are so many other turkey sounds to explore! Just as we have our own language, turkeys have theirs as well. The NWTF has all the sounds broken down for you; click here to listen and find out what each sound means.
- Turkeys rely heavily upon their vision. While they have monocular vision, they are able to detect motion and pick up detail very quickly. Have you ever wondered why turkeys bob their heads about so much? Well, it’s because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, so they are always scanning the area. If you move, they will see you! And, this is one of the greatest challenges when turkey hunting.
- The wild turkey is the state game bird for 4 states: Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. It’s not exactly the honor Benjamin Franklin had hoped for, but this bird is getting some much deserved recognition.
- And, here’s another honor: the Presidential Pardon. Yes, that’s right. The turkey gets an annual pardon from the president. This tradition began was thought to have begun in 1947 with President Harry Truman, but in all actuality, it was never a true tradition until President George Bush made it official in 1989. Prior to this turkeys had been presented to the president as a Thanksgiving gift, and while many presidents did set the bird free, it was George Bush who made it an annual tradition.
- There are 2 turkey species: the North American turkey and the Ocellated turkey. The Ocellated turkey can only be found in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It is the North American turkey that we are most familiar with, and this species can be broken down into 5 subspecies.
- Eastern – most abundant of the wild turkeys; found in 38 states and Canada
- Osceola (Florida) – the name says it all; this bird is only found in Florida
- Rio Grande – found mainly in western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, & Kansas; may also be found in other western states and Mexico
- Merriam – found in western mountain regions, with the Rocky Mountains being the most abundant location
- Gould – this bird is not as heavily populated as the others and can only found in Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico
Well, there you go. Just a few fun and interesting facts about the wild turkey. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. As always, please share your thoughts on this or any of my work here or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your feedback, and I am always looking for tips, ideas, recipes, and guest posts. Look for more turkey posts to come soon.