The Native American Turkey is a large land bird. It is part of the order Galliformes which includes chickens, grouse, quail, ptarmigan, partridge, pheasant, francolin, jungle fowl, and the cracidae. They have brownish-bronze feathers with velvety black margins and a black beard on its chest three to four inches long. A male turkey’s (Tom) head and neck are bare, colored with shades of red. A female turkey’s plumage is paler than a male’s and their head and neck is smooth and pinkish. They are smaller and slenderer too. Turkeys live deep in the woods and on the borders of swamplands. They eat seeds, nuts, berriers, and insects. The average Tom weighs 11-24 pounds while the average hen weighs 5-12 pounds. Their length averages from 36 inches to 48 inches.
Turkeys are native to America. Native Americans domesticated them as they are very easy to raise on acorns, berries and seeds. They were brought over to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors who distributed them to Spain and France and other countries.
Benjamin Franklin suggested the turkey as the new nation’s bird because it was so delicious to eat, however the founders chose the bald eagle because it is so fierce. The bald eagle struggles to survive in our changing environment. While turkeys are coping easily and flourishing abundantantly. This did not use to be the case though. When Forests were being cut down in order for farming to cover our rolling hills turkeys almost went extinct. Later our country took to preserving forests and captive turkeys(turkeys on farms) were let go to build a bigger ratio of turkeys in the wild. Only the turkeys with a large amount of wild blood could survive in the forest. The American Chestnut tree was said to have fed an estimate ten thousand wild turkeys. In the 19th century a fungus wiped out all the chestnut trees. This may have contributed to the decline of wild turkeys.
Today, there is an overpopulation of Turkeys in parts of America. This is due to the Tom’s harems. When he makes his mellow vibrato gobble, at least ten hens flock to watch a single tom. His feathers fan out while he struts. Every morning the hens come to see the ritual then they find their nest and guard it against predators.
Turkey eggs are very vulnerable to predators, and even to their fathers. If a tom finds the eggs he will destroy them. However, adult turkeys have amazing hearing and eyesight which enables them to see in color and spot predators an estimated 100 miles away. They also have strong legs that can carry them up to 25 miles per hour!
Young turkeys are also very vulnerable to predators. Some young turkeys’ predators include house rats, snakes, skunks, and weasels. At six weeks of age a turkey is threatened by bigger predators such as foxes, bobcats, coyotes, crows, dogs, cats, and raptors.
Those same predators are a threat to adult turkeys as well. But adding to this list is humans. Turkeys are especially susceptible to humans in early spring and late fall.
Turkey eggs are nested/laid in a leaf lined depression in the ground of the woods. It takes eight to twenty days to lay the eggs and a hen can lay up to as much as twenty eggs. The incubation period takes 28 days and the eggs are yellowish-white, buff marked with brown or red dotted evenly. The tom plays no part in helping the hen sit on the eggs but moves on to another hen.
The chicks are fluffy pink/brown after they have hatched and are able to run and make short flights when 2 weeks old. They leave their mother’s side a year later at the next springtime.
Turkeys feed on seeds, nuts,and berries. First the turkeys crush the acorns in a muscular gizzard packed with grit(not unlike a dinosaurs gizzard). Their mouth works much like a mill. But gizzards are very heavy to carry which makes flying more challenging for turkeys. They can also eat invertebrates such as insects,snails and occasionally a snake. Although turkeys feed on the ground they sleep up in the trees. Despite their weight,wild turkeys can agilely fly for a quarter of a mile and up to 55 miles per hour.
Native American turkeys live from Canada to Mexico. They live in the forest or at the border of swamp lands. Forests have all the favored foods of turkeys, acorns and leaves in the winter and berries and seeds in the summer. Swamps attract them for the same reason.
Although turkeys like warmer places to live, they do not migrate during the year. Instead they change their habitat in different seasons. Wild turkeys can live for about 10 years, Unless they are eaten by predators.
Turkeys were here at the very beginning of America’s discovery by Europeans and were supposedly eaten by the pilgrims. Since turkeys are native to America it is special for us to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. In the Christmas Carol Scrooge sends the Cratchits a Christmas turkey. Stories such as this probably helped make turkey a popular holiday food.
While turkeys are basic animals they do not have any special resources for us like milk or eggs but they provide a wonderful meal for humans and predators. They are part of the wonderfully complex and integrated environment. Thank God they are not extinct because without them we could not celebrate Thanksgiving.
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