Benjamin Franklin never proposed that the wild turkey be a symbol for America, but he did praise it in a letter to his daughter as being “a much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle and “a bird of courage.”
Despite what you may have learned in elementary school, there were probably no turkeys at the first Thanksgiving. The written menu listed fowl, but this most likely meant ducks, goose, grouse, passenger pigeons, swans—or maybe even bald eagles. Whether there was turkey on the menu or not back then, however, today we strongly associate the bird with the holiday.
Wild turkeys are smart and sensitive. But, let’s face it: they don’t exactly win over our hearts with their beauty or charm. They’re big, loud, sometimes belligerent and, to be honest, not too pleasing to the eye.
This Thanksgiving, with the help of some photographic images, I hope to change that perception of the turkey—at least, slightly—and present the bird in a more favorable light. To more fully acquaint you with Meleagris gallopavo, the wild turkey from which the domesticated version (the one most likely to be on your plate today) comes, I’ve scoured photo sources and prevailed on photographer friends to bring you some “glamour shots” of turkeys.
The photos here are guaranteed not to spoil your appetite (with, perhaps, the exception of the close-ups!). So, as you prepare your Thanksgiving table, please except my thanks, fellow travelers, wildlife fanatics and adventure seekers, for your curiosity about the world and your zeal for exploring new places. I wish you a happy, healthy, holiday season.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,
By the early 20th century, overhunting and destruction of much of their favored woodland habitats had pushed wild turkeys almost to extinction; only about 30,000 remained. With the help of conservationists, the turkey has made a comeback: there are about seven million wild turkeys in the U.S. today.
Turkeys have great hearing—although they have no external ears—amazing sight and a wide field of vision. They see three times more clearly than 20/20. And while we humans can only see about 180 degrees, turkeys see 270 degrees because of the placement of their eyes on the sides of their heads. They also have better color vision than we do and can see ultraviolet light.
Despite their looks, turkeys are fast. They can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour (as fast as a charging elephant) and fly 55 to 60 miles per hour.
An adult wild turkey has approximately 5,500 feathers, including 18 tail feathers that form the distinct fan.
Male turkey feathers have areas of bronze, copper, green, purple, red and gold iridescence. Female feathers are duller overall, in shades of brown and gray.
A wild turkey’s home territory often exceeds 1,000 acres, and they can visualize a map of it in precise detail. They have an incredible knack for remembering locations, even after a year of absence.
A multiple award-winning author and writer specializing in nature-travel topics and environmental issues, Candice has traveled around the world, from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, and from New Zealand to Scotland's far northern, remote regions. Her assignments have been equally diverse, from covering Alaska’s Yukon Quest dogsled race to writing a history of the Galapagos Islands to describing and photographing the national snow-sculpting competition in her home state of Wisconsin.In addition to being a five-time book author, Candice's work has also appeared in several national and international publications, such as "The Huffington Post" and "Outside Magazine Online." To read her web columns and see samples of her nature photography, visit her website at www.candiceandrews.com and like her Nature Traveler Facebook page at www.facebook.com/naturetraveler.
Good Nature is the official nature and adventure travel blog of Natural Habitat Adventures & WWF. We feature reports from the field, news about the natural world and thoughts from our accomplished writers and staff.