A Wild Turkey Thanksgiving

| 10/20/2014 8:35:00 AM

Renee-Lucie BenoitThe turkey is well-known for being wily and smart. Ben Franklin wanted to use it for our national bird but as we all know the bald eagle won out. While it’s not easy to bag a turkey, if you know a few things about them and their habits, you can have an easier go of it and perhaps even get one for your Thanksgiving table. Don’t wait until the last minute or you might be eating meatloaf from the freezer.

There are a couple types of turkey. The one I’m going to discuss is the best known. It is the common turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), which is a bird native to North America. As we all know the wild turkey has been widely domesticated for the table and barely resembles the wild turkey in color and weight.

Did You Know?

Domestication of the common turkey was probably begun by the Indians of pre-Columbian Mexico. The birds were first taken to Spain about 1519, and from Spain they spread throughout Europe, reaching England in 1541. When the bird became popular in England, the name turkey-cock, formerly used for the guinea fowl of Islamic (or “Turkish”) lands, was transferred to it. English colonists then introduced European-bred strains of the turkey to eastern North America in the 17th century. Turkeys were mainly bred for their beautifully colored plumage until about 1935, after which the breeding emphasis changed to their meat qualities.

The common turkey found today in Mexico and in the southeastern and southwestern United States differ slightly in feather markings and in rump color, but all are basically dark, with iridescent bronze and green plumage. Adult males have a naked, heavily carunculated (bumpy) head that is normally bright red in color but turns to white overlaid with bright blue when the birds are excited. Other distinguishing features of the common turkey are a long red fleshy ornament (called a snood) that grows from the forehead over the bill; a fleshy wattle growing from the throat; a tuft of coarse, black, hair-like feathers (known as a beard) projecting from the breast; and more or less prominent leg spurs. The male turkey, or gobbler or tom, may be 50 inches long and weigh 22 pounds, though average weight is less. Female turkeys, or hens, generally weigh only half as much as the males and have less warty heads than do the males. (Taken from the Encyclopædia Britannica. Last Updated 3-25-2014)