It’s turkey season

Who’s a turkey? I’m not sure when the term came into use, indicating that the receiver of the slur was as goofy as a turkey … but guess what? It isn’t a fair assessment of the American wild turkey who can be quite wily, especially when pursued by hunters.

Tom turkeys also exemplify a slippery trait by their polygamous inclinations. They do not mate for life but rather gather a harem of hens. Preferring preening to parenting Toms don’t participate in the care and feeding of the young.

Did you know that at one time we gobbled up nearly all the wild turkeys? By the early 1900s finding a wild tom was a rare occurrence. Fortunately, extensive restocking programs have been successful and the turkey population  has increased dramatically. Wild turkeys can be found in nearly all of the United States except Alaska, which obviously doesn’t need more turkeys.

The new generation of wild turkey has adapted to living in close proximity with humans with amazing alacrity. One feisty tom and his brood took over a neighborhood in a small town in New York for a while. The large tom would perch on car hoods and rule the roost, resenting owners who wanted use of the vehicle. He was also known to chase the mailman and other delivery people away from “his” street.

Remember Sesame Street’s Big Bird? He may not be a turkey, but his bright yellow feathers started out as tail feathers on one – probably from the domestic white variety.

Native Americans have for centuries worn a headdress known as a gustoweh. It is crafted from turkey feathers because a turkey is considered a bird of peace. The adornment is still used by men for important functions.

You may most often see turkey rafters – the word for a gang of turkeys – trotting along roadsides and fields. Don’t be fooled; although they do not fly high they are powerful in flight and can assume speeds up to 50 miles an hour.

Turkeys have an extensive means of communication.  Sounds can indicate location of the sender; send a “come home” message; or be invitation to a fight between rival toms. Smart for a creature usually known for crispy drumsticks.

The turkey is native to North America and at one time was in the running for designation as the official American bird. Ben Franklin considered the turkey a “much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle who he thought to be a creature of “bad moral character.” I wonder if we would be eating a turkey during the holidays if it had been chosen as a national symbol.

Early postcards celebrating Thanksgiving typically depicted the turkey as a bright and lively bird in the company of children. Very few showed the cooked carcass. The postcards accompanying this article are all dated between 1909 and 1919. All are embossed, and several show a patriotic theme.

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