Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Wild Turkeys

I sorted out a nice big bird for Christmas today and I wondered how many people appreciated the history of the Turkey. They are native to North America and were an important prey species for native North American Indians. Populations dropped drastically in 19th and early 20th century because of hunting and habitat loss. Introduction programs have successfully established it in most of its original range, and even into areas where it never occurred before.
European explorers took Wild Turkeys to Europe from Mexico in the early 1500s. They were so successfully domesticated in Europe that English colonists brought them back with them when they settled on the Atlantic Coast. The domestic form has retained the white tail tip of the original Mexican subspecies, and that character can be used to distinguish wandering barnyard birds from wild turkeys which have chestnut-brown tail tips.
Males are polygamous, so they form territories that may have as many as 5 hens within them. Male Wild Turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings. This behavior is most commonly referred to as strutting. Their heads and necks are colored brilliantly with red, blue and white. The color can change with the turkeys mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited. They also use their gobble noises and make scrapes on the ground for territorial purposes. Courtship begins during the months of March and April, which is when turkeys are still flocked together in winter areas.
The only other species of Turkey in the world is the Ocellated Turkey, found in Southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

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