Thursday, November 24, 2011


Turkeys are kind of big and ugly, if you ask me, but I can totally forgive how they look because they are so yummy to eat!  The scientific name for turkeys is Meleagris gallopavo, and they are native to North America.  It's very easy to tell a male turkey from a female turkey, just by looking at them.  The boy turkeys are called toms or gobblers, and the girls are called hens.

Tom turkeys have big heads with no feathers on them.  Usually the head is a reddish color, but if the turkey is excited, his head turns blue.  His throat is also red, and he has a flappy sort of thing called a wattle on the throat and neck.  The head has growths that are called caruncles, and over the beak, there is a long, fleshy snood.

If a tom turkey is ready to fight, his head turns red.  Turkeys are good fighters, and they defend their territory fiercely.  Toms have sharp beaks, talons, and spurs, and they know how to use these weapons.  Turkeys will even attack humans if they feel threatened by them.  But mostly turkeys stay undercover and blend in with the trees and stuff.  They are very wary of the smallest sound or movement, and they will fly away if they think something is wrong.  So for this reason it is very hard to find a turkey to shoot, if you are hunting.  Which may be why most people just go to the grocery store to find one.

How is a girl to choose?
Anyway, getting back to what turkeys look like, everybody knows that the gobblers spread out their tail feathers when they want to make a statement or attract a female.  The hens have more boring feather colors, like mostly brown and gray, and they can't spread out their tails.  Most toms also have a "beard," which is a clump of coarse feathers that look like hair.  This beard is about 9" long and grows out of the middle of their chests, which seems like a strange place to have a beard.   Sometimes females also have beards, but theirs are usually shorter and thinner.  All together, a turkey has between 5000 and 6000 feathers.

Turkey hens
Tom turkeys weigh between 11 and 24 pounds, and hens weigh 5.5 pounds to 12 pounds.  The National Wild Turkey Federation says that the biggest wild turkey ever on record weighed 38 pounds.  Just think!  A turkey of this size would feed a whole village full of basenjis, with maybe a little left over for the village people, too!

Turkeys like to live in an open woodland or savannah, and then they fly up to perches in the trees.  They fly much better than you might think, but they usually fly close to the ground, and they don't fly for more than about a quarter of a mile.  Turkeys eat stuff like acorns, nuts, seeds, berries, roots, and insects.  Sometimes they will also eat amphibians, lizards, and small snakes.

Turkeys are very talkative, and they say things like "gobble," "cluck," "putt," "purr," "yelp," "cackle," and "kee-kee."  When toms are courting, in the spring, they do a lot of gobbling.  Their gobble sound can be heard almost a mile away.  They can also make a drumming sound with an air sac in their chests. The hens yelp to let the gobblers know where they are.

March and April are the months when the turkeys start their courtship.  Besides gobbling and making other sexy sounds, the toms also puff out their feathers and spread their tails and drag their wings.  This is called "strutting."  As they get more and more excited, their heads change color from red to blue to white.

After a tom and hen have mated, the female looks for a nice place to make a nest, while the tom goes looking for another female to mate with.  The nest is made in a shallow hole with lots of brush and shrubs around.  There are 10 to 14 eggs, and the hen sits on them for 28 days.  The baby turkeys, which are called poults, can already leave the nest in just 12 to 24 hours.

Lots of animals like to eat turkey eggs and poults, including raccoons, opossums, skunks, gray foxes, groundhogs, and snakes.  The adults might get eaten by coyotes, bobcats, cougars, golden eagles, great horned owls, dogs, and red foxes.  But the biggest predator of all is humans.

Where wild turkeys lived back in 1758
Back in the early part of the 20th century, the number of wild turkeys got all the way down to 30,000 because of hunting and loss of habitat.  But then a lot of conservationists worked to breed more turkeys and make their population bigger.  Also, it was illegal to hunt turkeys for many years.  But the number of turkeys grew and grew, until hunting was made legal again in every state except Alaska.  By 1973 there were 1.3 million turkeys, and now the estimate is that there are 7 million.  Which is why you might be driving down the road someday, especially in the country, and you will suddenly see a bunch of turkeys grazing out in the field near the road.

Most people have heard that Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey would be a better national bird than the bald eagle.  He wrote a letter to his daughter Sarah in 1784 and said that the eagle was a bird of "bad moral character" who "does not get his Living honestly."  Mr. Franklin thought this because the eagle would just perch on a dead tree and watch the fishing hawk catch a fish, and then the eagle would swoop in and steal the fish away from the hawk.  Meanwhile, the turkey was "a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America."  Mr. Franklin also said that the turkey is, "though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

It is possible that Mr. Franklin was just pretending to be offended that the eagle was chosen and not the turkey.  There is no record that he ever actually told Congress that he thought the turkey should be the symbol of America, so maybe he was just making a joke to amuse his daughter.

The kind of turkey that most people eat for Thanksgiving is the domestic turkey, and this turkey is white instead of brown and gray.  The best guess about how the domestic turkey got started is that the Spaniards who conquered Mexico took a subspecies of turkey (which is now extinct) back to Europe, and it was inbred a whole bunch there.

Most domestic turkeys can't fly because they have been bred to have big breast muscles.  They are not as smart as their wild cousins, but they are not totally stupid either.

Anyway, now that you know all about turkeys, you should go and eat your Thanksgiving dinner.  Mom is going out for dinner, but I told her to be sure to bring home a big doggy bag full of turkey for us dogs!


  1. mmmmmmm . . . turkey.
    Mom said I could have rice and turkey baby food for dinner. Today she decided to starve my brother Jet the trying, which is much better than starving me!

    -Your friend
    Zest, superstar in training

  2. Dear Zest,
    I'm glad you got some turkey, even if it was the baby food kind and not the real kind with feathers. Does Jet have a sick tummy, too? I am thinking that is why he is being starved. You guys must have some kind of bug going around at your house, and I don't mean a cockroach!
    Your friend, Piper

  3. yes, Jet the trying had a sick tummy too. He did that just because I did it first. I'm sure I had a sick tummy because mom was starving me!


  4. mom said to tell you that I had a sick tummy before she decided to starve me, but I'm sure it got worse because she was starving me!

  5. Dear Zest,
    I hope you aren't starving anymore, and I hope Jet isn't starving either. And mostly I hope that your tummies are feeling all better now!
    Your friend, Piper

  6. Dear Piper-
    I can't believe my mom. She made me go to WORK today; I thought we were going shopping! No, we went and did agility today. She said I was pretty good, but missed some stuff and didn't get my contact on the dogwalk. I have no idea what she's talking about. Clearly I did do the basenji-approved courses. Silly judge didn't know any better because *I* was the only basenji entered.

    On the plus side, she did feed me yummy chicken baby food for a treat. That stuff is really, really good

    Your friend,
    hardworking Zest,
    superstar in training

  7. Dear Zest,
    You should have made your mom take you shopping for a nice sweater or something. The heck with WORK! I think it serves her right if you missed your contact on the dogwalk!
    Your friend, Piper