For the Birds: Turkeys are a North American Species

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Female wild turkey stock photo
By Christine Southwick
Wild Turkeys are native to North America and can be found wild in every state except Alaska (Hawaii even has some wild turkeys, brought by ships, but then Hawaii has Red Jungle Fowl (wild chickens), so I’m not really surprised.

Turkeys are related to grouse, pheasants, and chickens. 

Wild Turkeys can fly up to 55mph for short distances, and can run as fast as 25mph, so don’t try catching one in the wild. 

They can see three times better than we can, and can see those orange hunting vests, since all birds can see color.

A group of related male Wild Turkeys will court females, but only one member of the group gets to mate. The female will usually have a clutch of 12 eggs.

Wild Turkeys eat acorns, seeds, insects, and even frogs and lizards.

Wild turkeys - stock photo

At sundown they roost in trees. When startled while on the ground the females usually fly away, while the males usually run. Males are bigger, about four feet long, females are about three feet long, and don’t have spurs on their legs, which males do, otherwise they look alike. Both genders have a snood (a dangly appendage on the face), a wattle (the red dangly bit under the chin) and the reddish color on the head is their skin, since they only have a few feathers there.

 If you really need to determine their gender, look at their poop: female poop is shaped like a letter j, while males produce spiral-shaped poop (I wonder who funded that study…)

There are 5-6 species of Wild Turkey throughout North America. Washington State has three species which WDFW keeps stocked for hunting purposes. Wild Turkey hunting is second only to deer hunting throughout the US.

The Aztecs domesticated a species, which the Spanish brought back to Europe, and some of these turkey descendants came back with European settlers.  Wild Turkeys have 3,500 feathers, and if you ever had to pluck a Wild Turkey it is a real chore.

And no, Benjamin Franklin didn’t propose the turkey for the symbol of America. What he said was that the Turkey was a much more respectable bird (than the Bald Eagle), and a true original Native of America.


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