The wild turkey, full of myth like many staple game birds throughout the world, has a long and storied history.
It's half true that Ben Franklin wanted the wild turkey as the national bird. When Franklin found out that the eagle was to be the national bird, he wrote a letter that extolled the virtues of the wild turkey instead, but never started a campaign for the turkey as the national bird.
Turkeys can fly at 55 miles per hour, run at 30 miles per hour, and can reportedly swim. Indeed, at Faville Grove I've seen turkeys bursting through the oak woods, often flying so fast that they appear to careen off the canopy trees in a wisp of feathers. I've seen turkeys run zig-zagging patterns in front of a vehicle only to duck away into a fencerow at some random point in time. I've never seen a turkey swim.
Acorns are a preferred meal for turkeys, and the oak savannas and oak woodlands at Faville Grove provide good habitat, cover, and roosting for turkeys. If you wait in Faville Woods at night, you will likely see a few turkeys flying high into the canopy to roost for the night.
There is no evidence that turkey was consumed at the first Thanksgiving meal. The wild turkey originated from Mexico, and by the time of European settlement an estimated 11 million birds covered North America. By 1930, hunting and habitat loss had decimated the population to one third of a percent of their historical height. The 1940's saw reintroduction efforts of first, farm birds, then wild birds. The reintroduction of the wild turkey across North America has been one of America's greatest conservation successes. Regenerating forest and brush, coupled with conservation efforts, provided the habitat and population base for the population to re-expand. Today, it is estimated that 7.8 million wild turkeys breed in North America each year.
Twenty one percent of U.S. hunters pursue turkey, making it the second most popular game after deer.
On Thanksgiving, Americans will consume around 46 million turkeys, most of them farmed. The wild turkeys at Faville Grove found sanctuary this year and will continue to roost in the forest high above the ground, and high above the dinner tables on November 26th.
Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward
Photo by Vicki DeLoach, Flickr Creative Commons