November 12, 2012
Wild Turkeys are Making a Comeback
Turkey in the straw. Turkey in the hay. Turkeys in the hood?
by Debra Firmani
The wild turkey was one of the North American natural wonders that amazed Europeans. Ben Franklin believed the turkey, not the bald eagle, should be our national icon: “The Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America...a Bird of Courage.”
The bird is back
But by the early 1900s, the turkey most people knew was the very different domesticated version who had been bred for meat. And they only saw those turkeys in the grocery store. Hunting nearly emptied the natural world of wild turkeys, and it took government programs to bring the species back to its natural habitat—and then some.
…And may be in your backyard
Have you spotted an unusually large bird? Nearly as tall as a toddler, impressively plump, attractively attired, decidedly bald, and displaying the courage that impressed Franklin? Congratulations, you’ve met a wild turkey. If you’re really lucky, you might see a group of more than a dozen.
Why are they in the neighborhood?
They’re probably foraging for food. If you live in a newer development, your home may have been built in what was recently turkey habitat. If you’re in an older house, the turkey you see may have been squeezed out of nearby habitat.
Enjoy the show
“These are socially complex birds,” says John Hadidian, HSUS director of urban wildlife. "They have many distinct calls to communicate with one another and use elaborate behaviors to establish their dominance hierarchy, all of which makes them great fun to watch.”
Please, please don't feed the turkeys
“Enjoy them, but don’t feed them,” he urges: “Wild turkeys are fully capable of foraging on their own—providing food can lead to aggression.” So, hold off on feeding these birds, and just admire these orginal Americans as they strut their stuff!
Final word: give turkeys a brake
Wild turkeys sometimes forage along the road, so watch for feathered pedestrians crossing the road without checking for cars. And look carefully for stragglers.
Debra Firmani is a writer and long-time advocate for animals and nature. Her articles on wildlife, wild lands, backyard habitat creation, and nature education have appeared in print and online.