Turkey Facts: Wildly Different
The word "turkey" sometimes gives rise to a mental
image of a ponderous, dim witted animal that could be characterized as
a feathered cow. Come to think of it, that's not far from reality when
you're talking about commercially raised poultry. On the other hand, it
couldn't be farther from the truth when dealing with their wild cousins.
Wild Turkey Federation
Reviewing a mix of legend and fact, it is surmised
that today's grocery store varieties are ancestors of a race of wild turkeys
that are now extinct. The now extinct subspecies Meleagris gallopavo
gallopavo was a Mexican race of wild turkeys that were domesticated
by the Aztecs and Mayans. The Conquistadors that plundered the ancient
Mexican tribes took turkeys back to Europe along with silver and gold.
It was during this time that turkeys received their common name. Some authors
maintain that the word "turkey" was taken from the bird's call, "turk,
Turk" A more logical explanation suggests that "turkey" is derived from
the Hebrew word tukki, which also means "peacock," and was applied to the
turkey by the Jewish poultry merchants who helped introduce the bird to
Centuries later, early European settlers brought
turkeys and other livestock back to North America. These birds have been
subsequently bred to bring out the broad-breast characteristics and much
larger body size seen today. At maturity, domestic toms can tip the scales
at 60 pounds, while their wild cousins average a sleek, fleet 18 pounds.
An original native of North America, the wild
turkey is noted as a wary bird that's even more delicious on the table
than its tame brethren. The wild turkey is also several rungs higher on
the social ladder of the turkey world.
Many television sitcom fans remember the famous
WKRP episode where the radio station bombed downtown Cincinnati with flightless
domestic turkeys. By comparison, wild turkeys can wing away from predators
at 45 mph, and can maintain level flight for nearly a mile. Although very
similar in some aspects, the wild turkey is as distant from the domestic
as an athlete is from a couch potato.
The differences between the tame and the wild
turkey are easily recognized. To the uneducated ear, they may share many
of the same calls but their use and inflection are decidedly different.
Domestic turkeys will respond with a squeaky gobble to almost anything
and seem to stay in a vocal mood. Visit a turkey farm and you quickly learn
just how noisy they can be.
National Wild Turkey Federation
Wild turkeys have learned too much talking can
call in things other than turkeys, like predators and hunters. True skill
is required to consistently call in the elusive wild turkey.
The physical traits of domestic turkeys make them
an obvious stand out from the wild turkey. Incapable of flying or even
running very fast, they would make easy pickings for any predator in nature.
Domestics' neck skin, or wattles, are heavier, snoods, the finger-like
appendage that hangs over the bill, are longer and breasts much larger
and broader. The domestic also possesses a temperament suited to confinement.
All of these features point to the selective breeding and sedentary lifestyle
that are true to the domestic breed.
A truly wild turkey is a sleek, alert animal,
built for speed and survival. Its senses are sharpened through generations
of living in a harsh, unforgiving environment. A wild turkey that loses
its caution is soon to become a predator's dinner. This constant state
of caution has made the wild turkey one of the toughest game animals in
the world to hunt or even photograph.
Lacking its cousin's natural caution (and intelligence)
is one reason that has kept pen-raised or domestic turkeys from being of
any benefit to turkey restoration efforts. Many people still don't understand
that the pen-raised turkey contributed little, if any, to the expansion
of the wild turkey in recent years. Even turkeys with a wild genetic background,
but raised in a pen, will cease to exist in nature. The few that initially
survive will generally do nothing to expand their range and eventually
"Domestic or pen raised birds can actually cause
harm to the wild turkeys already in a population. They can pass on disease
and learned tamed traits. For these and other reasons, many states and
federal wildlife agencies have passed restrictions on introducing domestic
turkeys into the wild," said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, National Wild Turkey
Federation senior vice president for conservation programs.
Today, the wild turkey, along with its socially
unrefined domestic cousin, is a pretty common sight across much of North
America. In the early 1900's, however, only about 30,000 wild turkeys remained.
Today, the number of wild turkeys now stands at 5.6 million birds. Restocking
efforts with pen raised turkeys only served to feed predators and hinder
population expansion. The large numbers of wild turkeys across the nation
today are a direct result of trap and transfer efforts by state wildlife
agencies and the NWTF. Trap and transfer programs remove a few wild turkeys
from an area with a high population, and place them in areas with suitable
habitat, but no wild turkey population.
NWTF is dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation
of the North American hunting tradition. It's a 450,000-member nonprofit
organization with members in 50 states, Canada and 11 foreign countries.
Its volunteers work diligently to improve habitat, restore populations
and continue conservation education. Without these efforts by concerned
citizens and wildlife professionals the wild turkey might well have followed
the passenger .
For information on the National
Wild Turkey Federation,
call (803) 637-3106; check
out our website at www.nwtf.org or e-mail
questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.