The wild turkey: So much more than Thanksgiving dinner

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  • Photos by DON BARTLING A male turkey, called a “tom,” stands about 3-4 feet tall and weighs about 20 pounds. He’s a lanky-legged bird with a long neck and bare-skinned head, tinted during breeding season with alternate shades of red, white, and blue.

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    Two toms challenging each other. In the turkey world it is like “the showdown at the O.K. Corral.”

  • Photos by DON BARTLING A male turkey, called a “tom,” stands about 3-4 feet tall and weighs about 20 pounds. He’s a lanky-legged bird with a long neck and bare-skinned head, tinted during breeding season with alternate shades of red, white, and blue.

  • 1

    Two toms challenging each other. In the turkey world it is like “the showdown at the O.K. Corral.”

Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol than the bald eagle.

The wild turkey is a very different creature than its factory farm-raised cousin. You can see them in forested areas with interspersed clearings, farm-ground and even on your lawn or garden. It’s the time of year when we’re in search of the perfect turkey to grace our Thanksgiving Day table. A time when family and friends gather round to celebrate all that we are grateful for. These birds with over-plump breasts who are raised in cramped conditions at factory farms can barely fly because they’ve been bred to have giant breasts so they will quickly fly from your grocery store freezer.

While I greatly enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with my family, I am always in awe when I get to catch a glimpse of the beautiful wild turkey as I meander through Boundary County. The wild turkey can be found in large numbers in every state in the U.S. except Alaska. Even though these birds are quite large, they are quite well camouflaged and often difficult to see.

Just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, here is some information about wild turkeys that you may not know.

Wild turkeys live in family groups that forage in placid forests and in woods around farmlands and fields, especially in locations with streams, ponds and lakes. Turkeys communicate through as many as 28 different vocalizations, from gobbling to a high-pitched “kee kee,” to clucks, purrs, yelps and cackles.

Turkeys may look off-kilter — tilting their heads and staring at the sky — yet they’re fast. In a poultry race, they can clock more than 12 miles per hour, beating chickens by 3 mph. The cottontail leaves them both in the dust as it zig zags away from danger at 18 miles per hour.

A male, called a “tom,” stands about 3-4 feet tall and weighs about 20 pounds. He’s a slim, lanky-legged bird with a long neck and bare-skinned head, tinted during breeding season with alternate shades of red, white, and blue. A foot long bundle of rough, hair like feathers called meso filoplumes droop from his breast to resemble a beard. Adult hens average 10 to 12 pounds for most subspecies.

His full-throated “gobble-gobble-gobble” sound may echo for a quarter-mile and has awarded him the nickname “gobbler.” Females, called hens, have dull brown and gray feathers and pinkish bare-skinned heads. Both sexes show a pinkish-red fold of skin hanging from the neck called a wattle, giving rise to the term “turkey neck” to describe people’s necks with sagging skin. Young turkeys scarf down insects like candy. They develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.

Most of us won’t eat wild turkey for Thanksgiving as the Pilgrims did. We’ll instead carve up farm-raised turkey derived long ago by turkey farmers breeding domesticated turkeys and wild turkeys. Whichever is your choice of turkey, wild or domesticated, celebrate Thanksgiving with your family and friends.

“Forever on Thanksgiving Day, the heart will find the pathway home.” — Wilbur D. Nesbit

Enjoy Boundary County, its beauty and wildlife!

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