By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Wild turkeys, which are becoming a nuisance in some urban areas, are native North American upland birds and the heaviest members of the order Galliformes. Wild turkeys aren’t known to be the prettiest of birds, but adult males, which are called gobblers, have feathers much more vibrant in colour than their female counterpart hens. While the feathers of a hen are duller in shades of grey and brown, gobblers have feathers of many hues, including red, purple, green, bronze, copper, and gold.
Gobblers have large, bald, red heads, red throats, and red wattles, which are fleshy caruncles that hang loose off their necks and throats. Jakes, or juvenile turkeys, have shorter beards and taller tail fan feathers in the middle. Wild turkeys have only three toes, with a toe shorter in length at the rear of the foot. Male wild turkeys are equipped for the Wild West, with a spur on each lower leg.
The great gobbler can weigh up to 24 pounds and stretch to 49 inches in length, while hens are half their size, weighing, on average, less than 12 pounds. According to the National Wild Turkey Foundation, the heaviest gobbler on record weighed in at 37.1 pounds.
While wild turkeys are still living the dream before landing on a Thanksgiving platter, they prefer habitats such as hardwood forests with scattered openings — pastures, fields, and seasonal marshes — all which you find located on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa Peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples in the Columbia Valley. Wild turkeys are omnivorous and feed off the land, foraging on small shrubs and trees and off the ground.
Gobblers are known to fight off their predators when cornered and be extremely aggressive in self-defence, with their spurred legs flying. Turkeys are not known to act aggressively toward humans — which are probably their biggest predator, especially during the fall months — yet will try to attack parked cars and other reflective surfaces when they think their mirrored image is a threat. Don’t let their shorter wingspan and plumper bodies fool you as wild turkeys can fly with the best of them.
In the snood
When male turkeys are feeling frisky for some hen, the fleshy flap on their bill (called a snood) expands. The snood, wattles and bare skin of their neck and head all become engorged with blood. The polygamous gobblers like to get it on with as many hens as he can. Much like the peacock, they fan out their tail feathers to get the hen to mate with them, which typically begins in March and April. Hens lay a clutch of 10 to 14 eggs, usually one a day, which are incubated for a minimum of 28 days. Baby turkeys are called poults and, for their first four weeks of life, are flightless and rely on their mother for everything, including protection. Mother hens have been known to fight off hawks and other predators to protect their young.
Let’s talk turkey
A group of turkeys is called a rafter. The turkey’s gobble is their main form of communication and can be heard up to a mile away. A common myth about wild turkeys it that once they are spooked, you can’t call them back. While a loud noise may cause them to scatter, at heart they are gregarious creatures and will soon want to regroup once their environment is calm.
Another common myth is that poults can drown in the rain simply by looking up. This is false; however, these young turkeys are prone to hypothermia if cold, wet weather strikes soon after they are hatched. Turkey meat has always been a source of protein, while their feathers have been used for ornamental and ceremonial purposes. In keeping with the role, they play on Thanksgiving wild and domesticated turkeys have always been known to symbolize generosity, gratitude, family, and friendship.