Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wild Turkey

Come on, how could I write about anything else on (American) Thanksgiving? Turkeys are absolutely central to the holiday, as both the main meal and as an icon for the season. But rather than talk about the domestic bird that gets eaten, we're going to talk about their wild cousin, the feathered friend that Benjamin Franklin described as "a... respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America." Due to reintroduction and transplanting of wild populations, Wild Turkeys are now found in every U.S. state except for Alaska.

(Image Source)
Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are natively found throughout North America in six different subspecies. Turkeys were domesticated by the Aztecs, and by other native groups around the same time, and are one of only two bird species to be domesticated in North America (the other being the Muscovy Duck). It was once believed that the South Mexican subspecies was the wild ancestor to the domestic birds, but that has now been ruled out. The true identity of the original birds is still unknown.

Wild Turkeys are smaller than their domesticated brethren, and exhibit sexual dimorphism. Females reach weights of around 12lbs, while males around are 25. They are a polygynous species, with males mating with more than one female during each breeding season. The "Gobble" that is most associated with Turkeys is actually a mating call to attract females. After breeding, males take no part in the care of the chicks. Chicks follow their mother, and quickly learn how to feed themselves. In the wild, turkeys have a very short life expectancy of around two years, though captive birds have lived well over ten.

Did you know that Wild Turkeys are omnivores? They feed mostly on seeds, leaves, and nuts, but they do also eat insects and small vertebrates like lizards. Young Turkeys and Eggs have numerous predators, including Raccoons, Birds, and Skunks, while adults are preyed upon by larger predators such as Coyotes and Bobcats.

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