Wild turkeys are native to North America. In the 20th century, through trap and transfer and other restoration efforts, the declining population rebounded.
Preferred habitats include open forests perhaps with nut trees, plus edges and fields. Florida offers palmettos and swamps. Turkeys also frequent roadsides. Nightly, flocks roost and sleep in trees for safety — they are highly social.
Florida hosts two of six subspecies. The Osceola or Florida wild turkey lives on the peninsula. It interbreeds with the panhandle’s eastern wild turkey, which is prolific in the eastern half of the United States.
Droppings identify gender.
Feathers are dark overall with glimmering colors. Hens are duller and smaller. Toms (males) may reach 25 pounds.
Toms are polygamous and mate with many hens. Courting is singular or in groups. Male mating displays involve strutting while puffing the feathers (numbering 5,000 to 6,000), fanning the tail, and dragging the wings. Vocalizations with gobbling, drumming and spitting abound. Plus, head and neck skin varies from brilliant red, blue and white depending on mood intensity. Soon, hens nest in shallow dirt depressions, enveloped by woody vegetation — protection for poults (chicks).
Many predators, such as coyotes and owls, threaten. Toms may defend by ramming their bodies and employing beaks and spurs. Turkeys have small brains but are extremely intuitive and often avoid hunters. Pinpoint eyesight helps.
Although they are primarily walkers, they may run at 25 mph and fly (low) at 55 mph. Flight can span a mile.
For these omnivorous creatures, forage may include grass, nuts, berries, insects, and snails. Wild turkey meat is delectable and mostly dark. Nourishment from grass and grain produces milder meat compared to diets of insects.
Actually, turkeys were domesticated in Mexico and the southwestern United States long before Columbus arrived. The Spanish then introduced turkeys to Europe. The English purchased turkeys and similar guinea fowls from Turkish merchants — subsequently, the name "turkey." Colonists settling in the New World unnecessarily brought along turkeys. Actually, the pilgrims discovered the eastern wild turkey was already food for the Indians.
Today, domesticated turkeys (same species as wild) are bred indoors, sometimes in converted aircraft hangars with a flock numbering tens of thousands. Injuries, heat stress and blindness from lighting manipulations are common.
A female flock could fatally "henpeck" a misplaced solitary male. Breeding produces heavier, broad-breasted birds. White feathers can also be produced to avoid unsightly pin feathers on dressed meat. Size inhibits flying and running. Sadly, releasing these turkeys might contaminate the wild gene pool.
Actually, domestic turkeys provide more than meat. Feathers are ground for protein animal feed. Litter provides fertilizer and fuel in electric power plants.
Moreover, turkeys are considered therapy pets. Recently, a turkey was pushed in a wheelchair, boarded on a plane and placed in a seat, free of charge. The accompanying owner provided documentation from a mental health professional.
According to Benjamin Franklin, the turkey is more respectable and a "Bird of Courage" when comparing it to the bald eagle, our national bird. I would agree that turkeys are courageous, especially on Thanksgiving Eve!