by Jim Weaver
Had founding father Ben Franklin had his way the Wild Turkey, not the Bald Eagle, might have been our national emblem. While it is the domestic turkey that graces the Thanksgiving dinner table throughout the nation, its the wild bird that commands our attention.
With his awesome fanlike tail, colorful bald head, long beak, and 3,500 feathers, the mature male “gobbler” or “tom” is a sight to behold. This is one impressive bird. When he is “courting” his hens, he knows how to strut and warble. Quite the ladies man. The wild turkey was once plentiful throughout the country, but over hunting and loss of habitat caused a serious decline in population and in the early decades of the 20th century the birds were nearing extinction. Conservation efforts have successfully saved the wild turkey and today there are more than seven million birds in the North America. They are now hunted in all states except Alaska, and in parts of Canada and Mexico.
Long before European settlers arrived in the Americas, Native Americans enjoyed abundant populations of wild turkeys, and hunted the birds for food. At least 4,000 years ago, these early Americans created calls from turkey wing bones to help them bring turkeys in close enough to kill.
The National Wild Turkey Foundation (NWTF), headquartered in Edgefield, South Carolina, is the leader in wildlife habitat conservation in North America. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to conserving the wild turkey and preserving our hunting heritage. Since 1985, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s volunteers and partners have spent more than $372 million on projects to help wildlife agencies trap and relocate turkeys to areas of suitable habitat and improve the health of our nation’s forests and woodlands.
The Winchester Museum, located at the NWTF headquarters, is the only museum in the world dedicated to the restoration, management and hunting of the wild turkey. The amazing comeback story of the American wild turkey unfolds through exciting displays in the modern 7,200-square-foot museum, which welcomes more than 10,000 visitors annually.
The museum features an animated, lifelike storyteller sits in a rocking chair and tells stories about the history of the NWTF, turkey hunting and conservation. Also featured is an animated Cherokee Indian, who shares legends and stories about wild turkeys. An exciting video highlights America’s largest resident game bird and the conservation methods and people who have lifted the wild turkey from the brink of extinction to populations in the millions.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million domesticated turkeys are cooked and eaten in America each Thanksgiving. In 2010, more than 242 million turkeys were raised with an average live weight per bird of 28 pounds with nearly 6 billion pounds of turkey processed.
All turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears. They can also see in color, and have excellent visual acuity and a wide field of vision (about 270 degrees), which makes sneaking up on them difficult. Domesticated turkeys cannot fly, but Wild Turkeys can fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. They can also reach speeds of 25 miles per hour on the ground.
Don’t try to catch one.
To learn more about Wild Turkeys visit the NWTF website at www.nwtf.org. Travelers in South Carolina will want to plan a visit the the Winchester Museum at the NWTF headquarters in Edgefield.