Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys: Wild Turkey Tom Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer
Wild Turkey Tom
Courtesy Pixabay
Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer
It’s turkey time, and time to give thanks for this great bird! There is much to learn beyond stuffing them full of stuffing. In my younger years when hunting was a major part of our Michigan culture, I was forewarned that the wile wild turkey was a formidable opponent for the small game hunter.

I’ve had many turkey encounters beyond eating their deliciousness. Our little town of Smithfield was held at bay by four huge Toms who terrorized a neighborhood with their testosterone-fueled aggressiveness. This followed by two toms in Logan who gave merry chase to police officers that attempted to coral them as they were attractive nuisances at the Main and Center intersection. One unfortunately took refuge in a butcher’s shop. In the wild, I was surprised to find large flocks roosting in trees reminding me of passenger pigeon stories when their massive, collective weight could break limbs. On a Christmas bird count, I witnessed a near 200 yard line of single file turkeys traipsing through deep snow, like a herd of bison plowing through prairie drifts.

Wild Turkeys: Rio Grande Turkey Tom, Meleagris gallopavo, Courtesy US FWS, Robert H. Burton, Photographer, images.fws.gov
Rio Grande Turkey Tom
Meleagris gallopavo
Courtesy US FWS
Robert H. Burton, Photographer
Anyone who has the opportunity to meet these animals will tell you that they are highly intelligent birds full of playful and unique personalities. They are incredibly curious and inquisitive and enjoy exploring their surroundings. Turkeys are very social including human companionship. Researchers have found that when a turkey is removed from its rafter (flock that is), they will squawk in obvious protest until reunited. Turkeys have a refined “language” of yelps and cackles, with more than 20 unique vocalizations. They mourn the death of a flock member and so acutely anticipate pain that domestic breeds have had heart attacks after watching their feathered mates take that fatal step towards Thanksgiving dinner.

A bit more turkey trivia. The area of bare skin on a turkey’s throat and head vary in color depending on its level of excitement and stress. When excited, a male turkey’s head turns blue, when ready to fight it turns red. The long fleshy object over a male’s beak is called a snood. Wild turkeys can also fly 55 miles an hour and run 18 miles an hour.

The turkey was sacred in ancient Mexican cultures. The Mayans, Aztecs and Toltecs referred to the turkey as the ‘Great Xolotl’, viewing them as ‘jewelled birds’. From ceremony and food to clothing and companionship, their winged friends have always held significance in their lives. In the ancient Southwest, as elsewhere, human-avian relationships had important social, ritual, economic, and political dimensions.

Wild Turkeys were nearly hunted to extinction in large parts of North America with only 1,900 known to remain in the 1930’s. When European settlers arrived in Utah, none remained. Merriam’s wild turkeys from Colorado were reintroduced into S. Utah in the 1950’s from Colorado, creating an established population that has spread into several parts of Utah. In 1989, a second subspecies- the Rio Grande turkey, was successfully established in Utah’s Washington County. So as you give thanks before partaking in the TG feast, please include the turkey in your many blessings.

Jack Green for the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m thankful for Utah and its wild turkeys.

Wild Turkeys at the mouth of Smithfield Canyon, across from Mack Park, Nov 22, 2009, Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham

Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Robert H Burton, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Vince Guaraldi
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Zion National Park, Utah – Wild Turkey Mating Dance, “pkerikno” Photographer ‘Eric Def Films, Grandpa Pete Studio Production…’

Bingham, Lyle, Read by Linda Kervin, Wild Turkeys – Recently Moved to Utah, Wild About Utah, November 19, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys-recently-moved-to-utah/

National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), https://www.nwtf.org/
Look up the 12 Utah NWFT chapters

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, Guide to North American Birds, National Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/wild-turkey

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wild_Turkey/overview

Rio Grande and Merriam’s wild turkey use areas in Utah, USA, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Conservation Biology Institute, Feb 7, 2011 (Last modified May 13, 2011), https://databasin.org/datasets/8d2b2f9d01544c689f729d3ed0cf270d/

Wild Turkeys – Recently Moved to Utah

Wild Turkeys - Recently Moved to Utah: Rio Grande Turkey Tom, Meleagris gallopavo, Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov, Robert H. Burton, Photographer
Rio Grande Turkey Tom
Meleagris gallopavo
Courtesy US FWS
Robert H. Burton, Photographer

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 Turkey Courtesy US FWS, Robert H. Burton, Photographer
Wild Turkeys near Mack Park, Smithfield, UT Copyright © 2009 Lyle Bingham
Voice: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon
Text: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading:

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: https://www.nwtf.org/resource-library/detail/history-turkey-north-america

The Pilgrim Hall at Plymouth Plantation notes two sources of information about the thanksgiving celebration. The William Bradford writings mention “Turkies” https://www.pilgrimhall.org/great_american_turkey.htm

Why a Turkey Is Called a Turkey, Robert Krulwich, Nov, 27, 2008, NPR, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97541602

National Wild Turkey Foundation, https://www.nwtf.org/

Utah Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Foundation, https://www.utnwtf.org/

Wild Turkey Preditors, Posted by Admin, September 20, 2008, https://waterandwoods.net/2008/09/wild-turkey-predators/

Wild Turkeys, Project Wild, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/00fall-nc.pdf

Wild Turkey, The National Geographic Society, https://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/wild-turkey.html

Wild Turkey,Meleagris gallopavo, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Wild_Turkey.html

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: formerly: https://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/022/articles/introduction

Wild Turkey,Meleagris gallopavo, Birds of the World, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/wiltur/cur/introduction



Rio Grande:


Turkey CSI: USU Lab’s DNA Analysis Nabs Poacher, Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State Today, November, 2008, https://www.usu.edu/ust/index.cfm?article=21644