In the 1950’s, there were only 100,000 turkeys in the wild, today there are an estimated 3 million of them in the wild.
Turkeys have been on this planet in one form or another for 10 million years and have become one of the most popular, well known wild birds.
In the United States around the 1930’s, it is reported that their numbers were dwindling due to overhunting, disease and forest clearing. Thanks to preservation efforts involving a new form of herd trapping and transplanting the birds to more tranquil habitats, the Wild Turkey is now plentiful, residing in all lower 48 states and Hawaii.
New Jersey is home to thousands of wild turkeys, flourishing in woodsy rural, suburban and even some urban areas where they can feed on grains, berries, beechnut, acorns, oats, grasses, ferns and insects. When winter is tough, they can last as long as two weeks without eating.
Turkeys are neither endangered or threatened in NJ. Hunting is regulated by the State Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and it is legal in New Jersey.
There are six species of wild turkeys: the Eastern , Merriam’s, Rio Grande, Florida, Mexican and an offshoot species from the Yucatan.
Domestic turkeys can be identified by their black legs, while wild turkeys have pink legs.
Turkeys evolved on the North and South American Continents exclusively and became a great game bird for Indians and settlers. Indians of the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America first hunted the wild turkey and also domesticated them. Spanish Explorers enjoyed them so much they took Mexican Turkeys back to Europe in the 1500’s.
Male turkeys, referred to as Toms and Gobblers, are much larger than the female hens, have more colorful plumage and have different calls.
The average wild turkey weighs in at 20 lbs compared to the domestic variety which can be as large as 15-30 lbs.
On myth is that turkeys are stupid birds, but hunters know that wild turkeys can be elusive and clever in evading hunters. The wild turkey can see five times better than a person and hear up to eight times more accurately than humans. Wild turkeys avoid humans, they can and will take flight to avoid them, while domestic varieties tolerate humans as their caretakers. Wild Turkeys can fly at speeds up to 55 miles an hour, they are good at running too, they can reach speeds of 25 miles an hour.
There are many sounds and calls of the turkey, as many as 50 including the more popular “gobble, gobble” call of the male turkey, which can be heard from a mile away.
A turkey has a snood but no ears. The snood is the fleshy thing that hangs off the turkey’s chin, sometimes referred to as a beard. Even though the wild turkey has no ears to speak of, they have excellent hearing.
Only 50% of turkey eggs hatch and mature into adults. Many don’t survive for various reasons, including becoming part of the next level of the food chain when they are still eggs or baby hatchlings. Typically, a hen produces a clutch of 9-18 eggs. These eggs are very tasty and a great source of protein in the diet of animals like the raccoon, skunk and opossum.
One of the largest organizations in the world dedicated to the wild turkey is the National Wild Turkey Foundation which promotes safer hunting and well planned preservation of the turkey and it’s habitat.
High Ridge Gobbler: A Story of the American Wild Turkey
|A proud suburban wild turkey|