By Deborah Huth Price
Turkeys are silly birds, gobbling and strutting around, showing off their feathers. They seem so simple-minded, but you have to look beyond their 3500 or so feathers to find the real “meat.”
Ben Franklin apparently had enough respect for them that he thought they’d make a better national bird than the bald eagle.
According to history, the original rendering of the national emblem did not include a good likeness of the bald eagle. It looked more like a turkey, which was fine with Franklin. He thought the bald eagle was a bird of “bad moral character” while he considered the turkey a “bird of courage,” and as it was a bird native to this country, he thought it a better choice.
Perhaps one advantage of not choosing the turkey as a national bird is that it would probably not be on our dinner table had it been chosen to represent the country. The domestic turkeys grown today, however, are not the same bird that pilgrims saw in the wild.
It wouldn’t have been difficult for a pilgrim to spot a turkey—there were somewhere between 10-40 million turkeys strutting around in the 1600s. After almost being wiped out in the early 20th century, today there are somewhere between 5-7 million turkeys ambling about.
Wild turkeys can fly, which is not common knowledge to people who are accustomed to seeing earth-bound domestic turkeys waddling around in pens, being fattened up for the dinner table. Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour when necessary. They can also run up to 15-20 mph.
“Gobble, gobble” is not their only vocabulary. Only male turkeys, or toms, make the gobble sound. Some of the other sounds in the turkey’s language include clucks, purrs, cackles, yelps and putts.
Even the fit-and-trim wild turkeys are not small birds. Toms usually weigh between 16-25 pounds and hens weigh about 8-12 pounds. Turkeys actually roost in trees, mostly sturdy ones like ponderosa pines or cottonwoods. They nest on the ground, laying approximately a dozen eggs which hatch in about a month.
The turkey also has some unusual body parts (beyond the gizzard, giblets and neck). The caruncle, snood and wattle are all various protrusions from the turkey’s head that can turn bright red when it is upset or engaged in courtship. Toms have long, thin beards that extend from their chests, and spurs on their legs to use as weapons.
It is not that unusual to see wild turkeys on the Front Range. Some of the recreation areas that a turkey flock (or rafter) can be spotted are Bobcat Ridge Natural Area near Masonville, Sandstone Ranch Visitor Center just east of Longmont, the Big Thompson Canyon just west of Loveland and Rist Canyon northwest of Fort Collins. You might occasionally see one in your neighborhood, looking for tasty insects, seeds and grass.
Silly they may be, but when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, don’t forget to have a little respect for that wild cousin of your main entrée, which may be lurking nearby.