Monday, February 15, 2016

Thanksgiving Survivors: The poor ole Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

(A tom, or male, turkey. The bare skin around his face is called a "snood")
The Wild Turkey is a bird with a sad, sad history. It starts with explorers sending domesticated varieties of this species to Europe for exploration as a food source. The specimens became confused with a shipment of birds from the country Turkey, and the bird has forever been called a turkey. Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird, rather than the eagle because he saw that eagles weren't honorable in their lifestyle. Unfortunately, he never publicly voiced his opinion about this matter so the humble turkey was denied this opportunity. Turkey poults, or chicks have a tendency to drown and strangle by holding their heads to the sky during a rain storm, while opening their mouths! Wild Turkeys are also one of the most commonly hunted animals by humans and wild animals alike. Sometimes the turkey will even retaliate against its predator, only to make it angry! But through all this misfortune, turkeys are still numerous. In the morning, a turkey will awake and join his or her flock. I have counted two flocks in the past few days that have numbered sixteen and twenty birds. Gobbling and clucking, these flocks are normally seen hanging out with cattle in manure-filled pastures. Why would they forage in this "waste" land? The truth is that they eat cow patties. Really! They use the minerals from bovine waste because it is hard for them to find other regular sources for their proper nourishment. Cattle are stuck in a field, hence bringing flies and other bugs to feed on their blood and their waste. Turkeys eat these pesky insects as well. Cow pastures are buffets crammed full of food. Female turkeys, or hens, make hidden ground nests, sometimes laying around ten eggs! When her poults hatch, she will become more or less isolated from the flock by taking to the woods, hiding them from larger and fiercer turkeys and woodland predators.
(A Wild Turkey hen with her flock of poults)
Flocks of turkeys roost at night high in the self-pruning trees of the field's border. Some farmers still raise wild turkeys because they can sell them to hunting landowners for them to stock on their property, while eating some of the birds as well.
(A trio of wild turkey hens returning to the woods after visiting a feeder.)
All domesticated turkeys come from a Mexican strain of wild turkey, which is very closely related to the native wild turkey. The native strain of wild turkey is the Eastern Wild Turkey, and is relatively large compared to its relatives. Turkeys have enormous tracks that look like goose tracks without webbing between the toes. Turkey feathers can be found across paths and in fields. The Appalachian, Mountain, or Plucked Dulcimer, an instrument almost solely found in the Southern Appalachians, was traditionally picked with a turkey tail feather. In historic times, turkey feathers were used to write signatures, and goose feathers wrote the body of a document. Turkey wing feathers are zebra-striped, and are often misidentified as hawk or eagle feathers. So next time you see a turkey, marvel at its exotic nature and unfortunate history. Happy Trails, Critter Cade