November 25, 2008

Gobble It Up

As you all sit down to your Thanksgiving meal this week, give a thought to the bird sitting in the middle of the table. That delicious Butterball is a descendant of the North American wild turkey, which once wandered throughout the United States and was an important food source for Native Americans.

We white people came along and ruined most of that, of course. (It's what we do best; just ask the passenger pigeon.) But through conservation and repopulation efforts, wild turkeys are once again roaming through most of the states, including Utah. So, let's learn a little bit about the other white meat, shall we?

Your BOTW is the wild turkey.

Fact: The wild turkey is a large, dark bird with powerful legs, a long neck, and a fan-shaped tail. Its body feathers are an irridescent brown, and here in the West the tip of its tail is white. It also sports bumpy facial skin and a bare head and neck (which is often blue in the male).
Fact: The male wild turkey often sports a beard, a long trail of feathers extending from its chest (see picture). Some females also have a small beard but face unfair pressure to get it waxed.
Fact: If you forget what a wild turkey looks like, put your hand down on paper and trace around it with a crayon. Add a beak to the thumb and make the other four fingers multi-colored. This should really help you identify a wild turkey in the field.
Fact: The wild turkey is big, with males weighing in around 18 pounds and females more than 10 pounds.
Fact: The wild turkey typically flock together in small groups. Here in Utah, they live in areas with ponderosa pine and aspen trees or pinyon pine, often near grassy meadows. At night, they usually roost together in trees for safety.
Fact: The wild turkey eats pine nuts, acorns, seeds, and greens. It also eats some bugs during breeding season.
Fact: While the wild turkey typically walks to get around, it can run and fly quite quickly. While it can only fly in short bursts less than a mile or so, the wild turkey has been observed flying as fast as 60 mph.
Fact: Even more suprising, the wild turkey can swim. I like to imagine one showing up at a bird triathlon. All the skinny shorebirds and raptors snort at the bald fatty. Then he stuns them all with his speed and swimming skills. Is there a children's book in this somewhere?
Fact: Let's talk about the stuff that won't make it in my Newberry award-winning book, shall we? It's turkey sex time. To begin, the male attracts one or several females by gobbling and "strutting."
Fact: Strutting just means the male puffs up his chest, fans out his beautiful tail feathers, and prances around the females to show how truly bad he is. This video shows two males strutting. You'll also hear a great gobble toward the end. (That screeching in the background is apparently a raptor of some sort.)

Fact: If the strutting works, the male copulates with one or more females, who then lay eggs and raise the chicks alone.
Fact: The Birds of North America Online made reference to those males who aren't picked by females. Apparently, some of them have been observed "pseudocopulating" with cow pies. This is the kind of stuff that attracts Germans to my blog, huh?
Fact: I think we've learned enough at this point to properly appreciate our Thanksgiving meal. So, now I will leave you with the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote to his daughter that he thought the turkey more apt a national emblem than the eagle. It's stuff like this that makes me love Franklin:

"For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Eagle pursues him and takes it from him...For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."
This has been Your BOTW.


Kelly Branan said...

I really like turkeys, especially the dark meat parts. Seriously though, turkeys have been given a bad wrap. Many people believe that they are dumb. So dumb, that you cannot let then out of their pens during a rain storm because they will look up and drown.

This simply is not the case. Having grown up raising turkeys on a farm in New Mexico I can tell you that turkeys are very smart animals. We trained our little flock to play soccer with fallen apples in our field. It was hilarious.

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving everybody. I can honestly say that I am grateful for the Bird of the Week blog. Thanks Amy!

Camillee-yo said...

Where does one find a turkey aesthetician for a good wax anyway?
Happy Thanksgiving all!

Tim said...

Great blog, as always. I feel smarter after reading about the amazing wild turkey. I bet Tackett kept reading in hopes of a shout-out to Kentucky bourbon.

Plus, I never knew Kelly was a farmer. Bonus info.

Happy Thanksgiving one and all!

Anonymous said...

I, luckily, know people who are members of the Wild Turkey Federation (not the bourbon type) who make turkey callers out of wood. And I have seen and heard turkey calling in all its glory. Its actually pretty cool to see and hear a piece of wood make this sound. Not so cool though to see grown men actually walk like turkeys when they are calling them.
Pretty silly stuff.
Happy Thanksgiving. Penny

Jill said...

Great to read about the bird we all devour over Thanksgiving. I had a dream about your blog the other night. Don't remember much, just kind of random!

Julie said...

I enjoyed reading about the turkey. You make it so much more interesting than I thought possible.

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