Outdoor Living

Let’s talk turkey

    As we moved into our home, a prior owner told us that every November wild turkeys visited the backyard just in time for Thanksgiving. Sure enough, in November a tom and two hens scavenged for the abundant acorns in our tree-laden yard. Working from home, I watch the wild turkeys in our woods as they escape predators, roost in the tree canopy, and look for insects and nuts on the forest floor.

    Here are 11 facts about wild turkeys:
  • While sometimes considered flightless birds, wild turkeys really can fly! They fly up to 40 mph, however, they typically fly in short bursts of about 100 yards to get out of danger. It’s a great skill when a hawk is buzzing it!
  • Turkeys roost in tree branches overnight to provide better protection from predators.
  • Some turkeys have beards. Typically, males have stiff, modified feathers hanging off the front of their chests.
  • Turkeys have unique anatomy, such as the snood hanging over the beak or the wattle which is the colorful skin under the neck.
  • Turkeys were once extirpated from Indiana, meaning there were no breeding pairs in the state, due to overhunting and loss of forested areas. However, they were reintroduced, actually increasing their range.
  • Benjamin Franklin didn’t really petition Congress to make the wild turkey our national bird. However, he shared the virtues of turkeys in a letter to his daughter in 1784. He shared that turkeys are native and very courageous, though also silly and vain.
  • Wild turkeys are large birds, growing about 3.5 feet tall. The males typically weigh 11-24 pounds. The hens are visibly slenderer than the toms.
  • A turkey can have 5,000 feathers! Many are iridescent, while others are barred.
  • Poults (baby turkeys) are born in the spring and rely on insects to grow quickly. Adult turkey forage for wild berries and fruit, acorns, seeds and grain, green leaves, and roots and tubers.
  • Turkey eggs are significantly larger than chicken eggs. Wild turkeys are lazy nest builders, scratching out a place on the ground and lining it with a few leaves. Nests typically have 7-20 eggs, with 12 as an average.
  • Turkeys have many predators. The eggs and poults may be threatened by snakes, raccoons, birds of prey, coyotes, skunks, and foxes. Bobcats, coyotes, and eagles may attack adults.

    For more information on wild turkeys, visit https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3360.htm and http://mentalfloss.com/article/53729/no-ben-franklin-didnt-want-turkey-great-seal.

    Dr. Carla Gull blogs at www.insideoutsidemichiana.com. She is often seen with her four tag-along explorers in the greater Michiana area.