First domesticated in Mexico about 3000 years ago by the pre-Aztecs, Turkey’s were used not so much for meat, but for their feathers…which were used during their rituals and ceremonies, and for making blankets and robes. They were again domesticated about 2300 years ago by a different people…the Native American Ancestral Pueblos, also known as the Anasazi, living near the Colorado Plateau. They also first used them for their feathers, then began eating ‘em about 900 years ago. When the Spanish arrived in the New World, they transported the Aztec turkey from Mexico to Europe. (The English thought it was there own “Turkey”…a bird from Africa brought to England via Turkey, a major shipping hub at the time. The name stuck, so we have the “Turkey”). Demand in Europe increased, and several varieties were developed. In the 1700’s, these European breeds were brought back to the United States, where recent DNA testing suggests that the Southeastern Anasazi breed has gone extinct, and the birds that we now know and love are descendants of the Aztec breed!
Different than the birds raised for meat, (which weigh twice that of wild turkeys and are usually too heavy to fly), they can be spotted in THE AREA scratching the ground for food, like acorns, seeds, berries, small insects and even small amphibians; in Winter, they’ll gobble down Hemlock buds, ferns, and mosses. At night they’ll roost on tree branches. When they need to, Turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking!! When startled, they can fly quite gracefully at 55 MPH for short distances!
About 90% of all turkeys live in the U.S.; the rest are in Mexico and Canada. Since the mid-1960’s, restoration efforts were so successful that hunting is allowed wherever they roam. They are the second-most sought after game species…Deer being #1.
In Spring, the hen will lay up to 18 eggs on a nest she makes on the ground under a bush and a month later the “poults” hatch. For two weeks, unable to fly, the hen will care for them…roosting on the ground, trying to keep up with her as they forage in fields for grasshoppers and other insects. How the hen turkey reacts to a human (or other) threat depends on the age of her poults. If they are very young (under a week old), she huddles stock still with her brood in a frozen position. With wings and tail spread, she provides them with shelter. If they are detected, she gives a vocal command to her young to remain “frozen,” and feigns an attack on the intruder, simultaneously making a “putting” sound to quiet her chicks. By the time they are a week old, poults tend to evade possible predators by running away. At nine days old and later, most poults fly into low vegetation when threatened. By the time her brood is three weeks old, the hen commands them to fly into trees at the sign of danger.They’ll spend about a year with Mom.
The un-feathered skin on the throat and head of a turkey can change color from flat gray to striking shades of red, white, and blue when the bird becomes distressed or excited. Their “snood” (the flap of skin that hangs over the turkey’s beak) and their “wattle” (the flap of skin under their beak) will be bright red when the turkey is upset or during courtship.