Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Facts from NWTF

The Friends of Hagerman recently held a program for children at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, “Talking Turkey” with classroom materials provided by the National Wild Turkey Federation.

By sitting in with the youngsters, Blogger learned that:

Benjamin Franklin nominated the turkey to be the national bird for the United States of America.

President Abraham Lincoln started the tradition of a White House pardon for a turkey on Thanksgiving – the impetus? His son Tad made friends with the turkey that was to be on the Thanksgiving menu (later named Jack!)

There are five subspecies of the wild turkey: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Gould’s. The wild turkeys at Hagerman NWR are Rio Grande. The domestic turkey we are familiar with is descended from a subspecies that is now extinct.

An adult female turkey is called a hen. Hens generally weigh between 8 and 11 pounds. Female turkeys less than one year old are called a jenny. Like many other birds, the females’ feathers are more subdued in color than the males’, allowing them to better blend in with their surroundings.

An adult male turkey is called a gobbler. The name comes from the sound they make in spring, to attract the hens during the mating season. Gobblers weigh about 21 pounds, but the birds’ weight varies by region of their habitat. A male under one year in age is called a jake. Hatchlings of both genders are called poults.

Young turkeys favor insects for their diet. As they mature, mast such as acorns, pecans and berries, along with various seeds and grains, becomes the primary diet for the wild turkey.

Wild turkeys can run or fly. They can run up to 19 mph for short distances. They usually fly only short distances but can fly up to 55 mph. They prefer the borders between woodlands and field…low cover for nesting, trees for roosting and for their food source.

Wild turkeys are not migratory and often live out their life span within five miles of their hatching site.

Unregulated hunting had nearly pushed the wild turkey to extinction by the 1930’s. Then hunters stepped in to support conservation and restoration, and now thanks to individuals, to legislation and to organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, more than seven million wild turkeys roam America’s woodlands.

Happy Turkey Day!

Photo by Dick Malnory

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