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.
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/
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/
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/