Wild Turkeys Notecard

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 Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo)

The majestic wild turkey, our largest game bird, was Benjamin Franklin's choice for the national emblem. Others did not agree and the bald eagle was chosen instead. Inhabiting deciduous forests in many parts of the U.S., wild turkeys are becoming an increasingly familiar sight. Acorns and other nuts form the "bread of life" for turkeys. Seeds, insects and vegetation are also included in the diet. The male, or tom, turkey (pictured in the background) has ornamental plumage and head ornaments which readily distinguishes him from the hen (foreground). Barren of feathers, the neck and head of the tom take on different shades of blue, purple and red, changing hues to reflect emotions. With their great weight (toms weigh up to 25 pounds) turkeys are essentially terrestrial although they are swift runners. They will fly if necessary and are surprisingly quick and graceful.

The gobble of the tom, which can be heard up to a mile away, serves to help toms and hens find each other. While tail feathers are fanned, the tom will gobble and strut in an attempt to attract hens as well as to hold his harem. Wild turkeys have been greatly reduced in numbers due to past hunting pressure and habitat destruction. However turkey populations have shown a remarkable comeback as many of their former haunts have become reforested. This has been combined with reintroductions of turkeys in some areas; in a few cases these birds have been released outside of their former range.

Wary females scrape depressions in the ground and build their hidden nests. They lay an egg a day for 8 to 20 days. The chicks are able to run soon after hatching and can make short flights when 2 weeks old. Cared for entirely by the hen, the young birds remain with her through the ensuing winter, then set out on their own the following spring.

artwork and text by Steve Sierigk © 2002

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