Wild South Florida — Wild Turkey
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Wild Turkey
wild turkey
Wild turkey, photographed at Okeeheelee Nature Center in West Palm Beach.
wild turkey  

Probably no other creature, not even the bald eagle, runs deeper through American history and culture than this bird, the wild turkey, mealegris gallopavo. And probably no other creature has more folklore surrounding it.

Busted Myth No. 1: Turkey wasn't on the menu at the first Thanksgiving. In fact, it didn't become standard Thanksgiving fare until the 1800s.

Busted Myth No. 2: Benjamin Franklin did not propose that the turkey be used as the national symbol instead the bald eagle. He did compare the virtues of the two birds, and he did say the wild turkey was more respected than the eagle, but that came two years after the symbol had been selected.

Busted Myth No. 3: These are not ponderous birds, despite their size. They are powerful flyers, capable of hitting 55 mph over short distances. They can swim if need be.

Wild turkey was an important source of food for both Native Americans and early European settlers. At the time of the landing at Plymouth Rock, wild turkeys roamed over 39 future states, plus Ontario. The growing number of settlers put pressure on the turkey population through hunting and habitat destruction. By the early 1800s, the birds began to disappear from whole states — Connecticut by 1813, Vermont by 1842. By the turn of the 20th century, turkeys has disappeared from 18 of the 39 states, plus Ontario. And in the states where they did exist, they were restricted to the most inaccessible areas. Conservation and restoration efforts begun in the late 1930s have not only restored turkeys to much of their former range, the bird is now found in all states but one. The exception: Alaska.

wild turkey

There are five subspecies of wild turkey, one of which is the Florida wild turkey (m.g. Osceola) found in central and South Florida. Domestic turkeys actually originated from a Mexican subspecies.

Turkeys can approach four feet in body length, and can have a wingspan of nearly five feet, with males larger than females. Males will puff up and fan their tail feathers in display. Turkeys live in open forests and forest edges. Diet include berries, seeds and nuts, but also insects and small vertibrates.

May and April is nesting season; females will lay on average a clutch of 10 eggs that hatch after 25 or 26 days of incumbation. Half or more of all nests will end in failure; the eggs have a 70 mortality rate, mostly from predation by foxes, raccoons, opossums, dogs and skunks (surprisingly skunks love eggs). Once hatched, the male plays no role in rearing the young; females will feed their chicks for a few days until they learn what to eat. Females also teach their young other things a turkey needs to know in the wild.

More Links for Wild Turkey Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Audubon Society National Geographic
National Wild Turkey Federation      
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