It’s already time for Thanksgiving…whatever happened to August? And Thanksgiving means having a turkey dinner. Of course the turkeys that we have on our dinner tables these days are rarely “wild turkeys,” but rather domestic turkeys. Their temperament is more suited to confinement, they can’t fly and can run only poorly. So they couldn’t survive in the wild.
In contrast, the wild turkey is sleek, alert and built for speed and survival. Since it lives in a constant state of caution, it is one of the most difficult to hunt. The males may weigh up to 16 pounds, while the smaller females weigh only about 9 pounds. The neck is long and the head is small: It always looks out of balance to me! The male is a yard long with a 5-foot wingspan. A big bird!
From my copy of Sibley’s guide to birds, I’ve learned that there are two subspecies: the Eastern (or Common) and the Southwestern with a pale margin on the edge of the tail. So the photo from USFW would be the Southwestern. In Dr. Hewston’s “Bird Awareness Newsletter,” he explains that the Common Turkey ranged from Canada south to Mexico (thereby occurring in our Eastern states). This bird was apparently domesticated by the people of Mexico and the Spanish explorers took it back to Spain in the early 1500s. By the 1600s, Turkeys had been introduced throughout Europe and the Pilgrims brought some of these tame birds with them. But here they found identical birds, running wild! So, Wild Turkeys!
Of course our Wild Turkeys were on the decline (habitat loss, over hunting). In 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded and now there are about 7 million wild turkeys on our continent— some occur in our immediate area.
Pinon-Juniper Woodlands are a likely spot to see our Wild Turkeys. Keep an eye out for them on the wintry days ahead.