Turkeys

For many Americans, a turkey is the star of the traditional Thanksgivings Day feast. Let's find out more about this interesting bird.


Did you know that turkeys are a North American bird, unknown in Europe until explorers came to this continent? They were hunted and even raised by Native Americans long before the pilgrims came to New England. Turkey calls made from turkey wing bones have been found that were made over 1000 years ago. Hunters today still imitate the sounds made by wild turkeys to try to get them to come close enough to shoot. The National Wild Turkey Federation Web site has information about these birds which had once almost disappeared from the wild because of over hunting and habitat loss. Turkeys are not easy to hunt. They are smart and hard to fool. This is one reason Benjamin Franklin thought that the Wild Turkey, not the Bald Eagle which sometimes eats dead fish, should be the symbol of the United States.

A wild turkey needs a large area to move around in to meet its needs. A flock of turkeys may use from 1500 to 3000 acres or more to meet their survival needs. An acre is about the size of a football field so this is a lot of land. They eat many different foods, including nuts, berries, and other fruits, seeds, and insects. The male turkey or tom calls in the spring, hoping to attract a female or hen. After mating, a hen may lay as many as 18 eggs in a nest right on the ground. The hen sits on the eggs to incubate them. Nests are sometimes found by raccoons, oppossums and other animals when the hen goes away to feed. Then the eggs get eaten. The young turkeys are called poults. They can leave the nest soon after hatching. Poults stay with the hen throughout the summer. Adult turkeys fly up into trees to roost over night.

Most turkeys served at Thanksgivings Day are raised on farms. They are bred to be much bigger than wild birds. In fact, they may weigh 3 times as much as a wild turkey. Most farm raised turkeys can't fly at all. Their breasts are just too heavy with meat. Domestic turkeys are not known for being very smart. Most farm raised turkeys have white feathers, making them look very different from wild birds. White feathers keep the skin of a turkey from getting colored when it is being processed.

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