Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkey Life

Wild turkeys do not have to travel for Thanksgiving; they are able to fly for only short distances and do not migrate. However, they are able to run quickly, a trait that we observed when we found the flock below near a local roadside. Suspicious of our camera, the turkeys ran so quickly they seemed to float over the golden field.

Turkey society favors the traditional male. Several females and young turkeys travel with one male in flocks that range in size up to 30 members. A male's gobbling can be heard for up to one mile. Females have the majority of responsibility for raising the young. They build nests on the ground near concealing shrubs. There are between 8 and 20 eggs.

Wild turkeys range in size from 3 to 12 pounds. I always thought of turkeys as drab due to all of the art projects involving orange and brown paper when I was young. Actually, they have iridescent feathers.

Wild turkeys that I saw here in California enjoy stirring up the ground beneath them with their beaks. When I asked a ranger about this behavior, I learned that they were looking for seeds. We also observed a flock headed straight toward a winery. Turkeys do eat grapes, and one of their favorite habitats is forest interspersed with agricultural land. While wild turkeys are native to parts of North America, they are not native to California.

Wild turkeys are at home in the Family Phasianidae, which includes pheasants, grouse, quail, and chickens.

Finding Wild Turkeys

Wild turkey habitat includes forest, open forest, mountains, wooded canyons, and areas of scrub vegetation.

In Northern California, we have found turkeys along rural roads near agricultural lands. Residents of a local suburb just north of here have reported numerous sightings of turkeys in their yards. This suburb is in a beautiful location at the base of a mountain.

A Symbol of Thanksgiving

Benjamin Franklin proposed the wild turkey as America's national bird instead of the eagle. Every American schoolchild is familiar with the legend of the settlers of Plymouth Rock sitting down with Native Americans for a turkey meal in gratitude for the harvest. While turkey was probably not really served, the two groups had signed a peace treaty and did share a harvest meal. Sadly, reality did not live up to legend, and the story of European settlers and Native Americans is actually filled with conflict and conquest.

Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday ironically at the time of the Civil War. He hoped that this declaration would uplift the nation and inspire feelings of unity.