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Is it Thanksgiving or Turkey Day?


During this time of Thanksgiving, many of our family gatherings are centered around a meal and the centerpiece of that meal is usually a roasted turkey. William Bradford noted in 1621 the first Thanksgiving feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony included waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. There was also a great store of wild turkey of which they took many, so it is unclear if a turkey was actually served at the first Thanksgiving.

In 1863 Alexander Hamilton proclaimed that no “Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” Benjamin Franklin lobbied to have the wild turkey be the national bird of the United States rather than the bald eagle. While most of the turkeys enjoyed during Thanksgiving meals today are domestic farm species, American Forest Management wanted to take this opportunity to describe the wild turkey species that can be found in the fields and forests of the United States. These birds are not only important for holiday meals, they are also valuable inhabitants of our forest ecosystems, and provide countless recreational opportunities for sportsmen.

The Eastern wild turkey are the most widely distributed subspecies of turkey east of the Mississippi River. They are also the most abundant in numbers, having populations present in 38 states. Common characteristics include: chestnut brown tips on tail feathers, white and black wing bars, very strong gobbles, and long beards.

The Osceola wild turkey is also known as the Florida wild turkey as that is the only place it is found. Total population is estimated at 100,000 birds. The have dark tips on their wing feathers, black wings with small white bands, long legs, long spurs, and strong gobbles. Their beards are shorter than the eastern wild turkey and in general they are difficult to call when hunting.

The Rio Grande wild turkey is concentrated in the western region of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. These birds have tan colored tips on their tail feathers, black and white wing bars, moderate gobbles, and moderate beard and spur lengths.

The Merriam’s wild turkey is most abundant in the mountainous regions of the west – the Rocky Mountains are considered to be the hub of the population. These birds have snow-white tips on their tail feathers, very weak gobbles, short beards and spurs.

The last sub species is the Gould’s wild turkey. These birds are only found in Arizona and New Mexico; the population is few in numbers. These birds have long legs like the Osceola, light colored tips on the tail feathers and moderate wing color. They also have moderate gobbles, beard and spur length.

During this Thanksgiving holiday, we hope you will take time to get outdoors with your family and possibly have an opportunity to view one of these majestic creatures that add so much to our Thanksgiving holiday!