November 22, 2013
Seven Reasons To Honor The Turkey
Few sights are more impressive than seeing a turkey fly. Yes, turkeys can fly. I know…weird. The hulk of their bodies flying around in the air is quite a shock for many people. And, frankly, it is weird looking while also being surprisingly beautiful. In fact, that is exactly how I would describe the turkey: surprisingly beautiful.
Recently, the US Geological Survey (USGS) and its Cooperative Research Units in Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania released a glutton of information about the turkey. From where they live, how they breed, hunting regulations, and so much more, the USGS helps people to understand more about this surprisingly beautiful bird.
First, the USGS reports that turkey now populates just about everywhere it did when the pilgrims first landed on the east coast. This is due to extensive restoration efforts. How great is it that the turkey has reentered its home even with the human developments? I would say that is pretty darn incredible.
Next, the USGS discussed just what a turkey’s diet consists of, which is everything. These birds are omnivores, which means they eat plants and animals. Typically, a turkey’s diet will have foods such as acorns, berries, nuts, lizards, insects, and snakes, just to list a few options. Because they are not picky, the turkey needs an extra organ to help it digest its foods; this is the gizzard. Additionally, turkeys will ingest small stones and pebbles to aid the gizzard.
Third, the article explains the looks of the turkey. In the words of the USGS article, “Similar to other birds, the male has the fancier plumage, or feather pattern. Not only do males have more colorful feathers, but also where they lack feathers on their head their skin has beautiful hues of red and blue which they display to attract mates. In addition to different colored breast feathers, male turkeys exhibit a long “beard” (actually special feathers) growing from the center of their chest. Generally, the older the bird the longer the beard, which can grow to over a foot long.” The beard, bright colors, and fancy plumage all contribute to the beauty of this large bird.
Continuing on, the USGS identified how and when the turkey is hunted. Accordingly, the turkey has two seasons in many states. In the fall, both male and female turkeys may be harvested while the spring allows hunters to harvest only the males. This is to help regulate the turkey population and allow it to increase so that it does not die off. This bird is too important for more reasons than Thanksgiving dinner to allow it to be overhunted. Its role in ecosystem regulation helps all.
Finally, the article explained a turkey’s habitat and range. First of all, though I started this article with the fact that turkeys can fly, they move around better by walking. They can cover almost two miles an hour when grazing for food and have a range of about a half a square mile to over three square miles. Additionally, they require three habitats for survival: nesting habitat, brooding habitat, and a winter habitat.
The nesting habitat needs to have cover in order to protect the hen and her eggs. Turkeys will often nest at the base of trees, near fallen logs and boulders, and around other features that conceal the nest.
Once the eggs hatch, then they need a brooding habitat, which is usually in orchards or groves of trees spaced to allow sunlight and are not often visited by humans for things like mowing. The brooding habitat needs abundant insect life and to have brush for cover and hiding.
The final habitat is the winter one. As the article explains, “A good winter habitat depends on an abundant food source, thermal covering for roosting, and protected travel corridors. Places where groundwater comes to the surface are ideal because they provide drinking water, and melt the snow, giving turkeys access to the plant and animal life buried beneath it. Pine trees and other conifers provide warmth due to their needle-like nature and ability to catch the snow as it falls because they can contain the heat from leaving the snow-covered corridors. These conifer trees and shrubs also provide covered travel corridors to navigate warmly and safely through the land.”
This Thanksgiving, think about the noble turkey and this information. Appreciate the bird for its life and what it gives to those who eat it. And remember that our national bird was almost the turkey, if Benjamin Franklin had had his way. That’s enough to remind us all of how to honor the main dish of a Thanksgiving meal.
Image Credit: Thinkstock