The pilgrims had turkeys for the first Thanksgiving*, but the likelihood that turkeys roamed Utah at that time is small. Archaeologists have found turkey bones in pueblos in the south-eastern corner of the state. But, it is not known if they were domesticated or wild birds. However, like the ring-necked pheasant, and chukar partridge, more than 20,000 wild turkeys now roam Utah thanks to hunters and wildlife professionals.
Turkeys are the largest upland game bird in Utah. Toms stand 4 feet high with tails fanned. Hens stand 3 feet tall. First year birds are called Jakes and Jennies.
Three of the five sub-species of wild turkey were introduced to Utah. Eastern turkeys lived on Antelope Island from 1925 through the 1950s. The Merriam’s, from the ponderosa pine habitat of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado were introduced in 1952. And Rio Grandes, native to cottonwood river bottoms of Texas, were introduced in 1984.
Merriam’s turkeys are blacker than the eastern turkey, with reflections of blue, bronze and purple. Tail coverts, the feathers of the lower back that cover the tail feathers, are white on a Merriam’s turkey; and buff or tan on a Rio Grande.
For protection, turkeys roost in trees, but descend to feed under or near trees during the day. Except when nesting, they prefer protection in numbers and rarely wander alone.
In winter they roost in flocks, but disperse as far as 10 miles to nest. Hens lay 10-11 eggs near brushy cover and incubate them for 28 days. They eat pine nuts, acorns, seeds, insects and green vegetation.
The main predators are hawks, golden eagles, foxes, coyotes, dogs, cats, skunks, raccoons, ravens, and magpies. Fortunately, the numbers hatched usually overcome predation losses.
Thanks this holiday goes to the National Wild Turkey Foundation and Utah DWR for our Wild Turkeys.
This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Wild Turkeys Near Mack Park in Smithfield, UT, 22 Feb 2009
Copyright © 2009 Lyle Bingham
Wild Turkeys near Mack Park, Smithfield, UT Copyright © 2009 Lyle Bingham
Text: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon
Note: Turkeys were not featured at the first thanksgiving in 1621 as they are in present meals. References to the meal included venison and wild fowl, but the likelihood that turkey was featured is questioned. Although associated with the first thanksgiving by tradition, they are believed to have become commonly associated with the thanksgiving meal around 1800. The NWTF notes this in their History of the Wild Turkey in North America: http://www.nwtf.org/conservation/bulletins/bulletin_14.pdf
The Pilgrim Hall at Plymouth Plantation notes two sources of information about the thanksgiving celebration. The William Bradford writings mention “Turkies” http://www.pilgrimhall.org/great_american_turkey.htm
Why a Turkey Is Called a Turkey, Robert Krulwich, Nov, 27, 2008, NPR, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97541602
National Wild Turkey Foundation, http://www.nwtf.org/
Utah Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Foundation, https://www.utnwtf.org/
Wild Turkey Preditors, Posted by Admin, September 20, 2008, http://waterandwoods.net/2008/09/wild-turkey-predators/
Eaton, Stephen W. 1992. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/022/articles/introduction
Turkey CSI: USU Lab’s DNA Analysis Nabs Poacher, Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State Today, November, 2008, http://www.usu.edu/ust/index.cfm?article=21644