The turkey is a large bird belonging to the galliformes, closely related to pheasants and peacocks. Mostly known as a festive Thanksgiving dish in the United States, but on other days Americans also often eat it. It is less popular with us, although every year it is increasingly crowding the chicken. But it's domestic – and American forests are also wild.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Turkey

Photo: Turkey

The origin and initial evolution of birds has long been one of the most actively discussed issues in the scientific community. There were various theories, and even now, although there is an established version, some of its details are still debatable. In accordance with the traditional version of the bird, it is one of the branches of theropods, which in turn belong to dinosaurs. It is believed that they are very close to the maniraptors. The first reliably established transitional link to birds is Archeopteryx, but there are a number of versions regarding how evolution went before that.

Video: Turkey

According to one of them, flight appeared due to the development of the ability to jump down from trees, in accordance with another, the ancestors of birds learned to take off from the ground, the third claims that they originally jumped on bushes, the fourth that they attacked prey from an ambush from a hill, and so on. This question is very important, because on the basis of it it is possible to determine the ancestors of birds. In any case, the process had to take place gradually: the skeleton changed, the muscles necessary for flight were formed, and plumage developed. This led to the appearance of the first birds by the end of the Triassic period, if we consider protoavis in this capacity, or somewhat later – by the beginning of the Jurassic period.

The further evolution of birds for long millions of years proceeded in the shadow of the pterosaurs that then dominated the skies. It was relatively slow, and those species of birds that lived on our planet in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods have not survived to this day. Modern species began to appear after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. Relatively few birds that suffered in its course got the opportunity to occupy the skies – and on land, too, many ecological niches were vacated, in which flightless species settled.

As a result, evolution began to proceed much more actively, which led to the emergence of modern species diversity of birds. At the same time, a detachment of chickens arose, to which the turkey belongs, then the peacock family and directly the turkey. They were scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 and given the name Meleagris gallopavo.

Appearance and features

Photo: How looks like a turkey

Photo: What a turkey looks like

Outwardly, the turkey looks like a peacock – although it does not have such beautiful plumage, it has almost the same body proportions: the head is small, the neck is long and the body is of the same shape. But the legs of the turkey are noticeably longer, and also strong – this allows it to develop a high running speed. The bird is able to rise into the air, but it flies low and not far, and besides, it spends a lot of energy on it, so after the flight you have to rest. Therefore, they prefer to move on their feet. But flying is also useful: with its help, a wild turkey can be on a tree, which helps to escape from some predators or to get a safe place to sleep.

Sexual dimorphism in turkeys is pronounced: males are much larger, their weight is usually 5-8 kg, and in females 3-5 kg; the skin on the head of the male is wrinkled, with a hanging outgrowth above the beak, in the female it is smooth, and the outgrowth is of a completely different type – it sticks out like a small horn; the male has folds and can inflate them, in the female they are smaller and cannot inflate. Also, the male has sharp spurs that are absent in the female, and the color of his feathers is richer. Feathers from a distance appear predominantly black, but with a white stripe. From a close distance, it can be seen that they are rather brown in color – in different individuals they can be darker or lighter. Often the bird has a green tint. The head and neck are not feathered.

Interesting fact: In the range of a wild turkey, it sometimes interbreeds with domestic individuals. The owners of the latter only benefit, because the offspring are more resistant and larger.

Where does the turkey live?

Photo: American Turkey

Photo: American Turkey

The only continent where wild turkeys live is North America. And for the most part they are common in the United States, in the eastern and central states. In them, these birds can be found quite a lot in almost every forest – and they prefer to live in the forests. They live from the northernmost borders of the United States and to the south – Florida, Louisiana, and so on. In the west, their wide distribution range is limited to such states as Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. Further to the west, they are much less common, in separate foci. Their separate populations, for example, are in Idaho and California.

Wild turkeys also live in Mexico, but in this country they are far from being as widespread as in the United States, their range is limited to several areas in the center. But in the south of Mexico and in the countries of Central America closest to it, another species is common – the eyed turkey. As for the common turkey, in recent decades its range has been artificially expanded: a project was carried out to relocate birds to Canada so that they breed there. It has been very successful, wild turkeys have successfully established new territories, and there are now a large number near the US border.

Moreover, the border of their distribution gradually goes more and more to the north – the area in which these birds can live in nature has already exceeded the expectations of scientists. Usually turkeys live in forests or near bushes. They prefer the area near small rivers, streams or swamps – especially the latter, because they have a lot of amphibians that the turkey feeds on. As for domesticated turkeys, they have spread widely around the world, successfully competing with chickens: they can be found on any continent.

What does a turkey eat?

Photo: Homemade turkey

Photo: Homemade turkey

The diet of turkeys is dominated by plant foods such as:

  • nuts;
  • juniper and other berries;
  • acorns;
  • grass seeds;
  • bulbs, tubers, roots;
  • greens.

They can eat almost any part of plants, and therefore do not lack food in the forests of America. True, most of the above is low-calorie food, and turkeys have to look for food almost all day. Because they prefer what gives more calories, mainly various nuts. They also love delicious berries. From grass clover, green carrots, onions, garlic – that is, the most juicy or with a special taste. But not plants alone – turkeys can also catch and eat small animals, much more nutritious. Most often they come across:

  • toads and frogs;
  • lizards;
  • mice;
  • insects;
  • worms.

They often settle near water bodies: so they themselves do not need to spend a lot of time on a watering place, besides, there are much more such living creatures next to them, and her turkeys love her very much. Domesticated turkeys are mainly fed with pellets, the composition of which allows you not to worry about the nutrition being balanced – they already have all the substances necessary for the bird. But at the same time, while walking, they can also be supported by grass, roots, insects and other food familiar to them.

An interesting fact: Turkeys have good taste, as well as hearing, but there is no sense of smell at all, which prevents them from smelling predators or hunters in advance.

Now you know how to feed a turkey. Let's see how they live in the wild.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Wild Turkey

Photo: Wild Turkey

Turkeys live sedentary, females, along with offspring, in flocks, usually numbering about a dozen individuals, and males singly or in groups of several individuals. They go out in search of food from dawn and lead them until sunset, often taking a break around noon if it's hot. Almost all the time they move on the ground, although several times a day a turkey is able to rise into the air – usually if it spotted something especially tasty, or if it is in danger. Although in the second case, the bird first tries to run away – it runs fast, at speeds up to 50 km/h, so it often succeeds.

In addition, turkeys are hardy and able to run for a long time, even when the predator is already exhausted, and they are also able to change the direction of running very quickly, which confuses the pursuer: therefore, it is difficult even for a rider on a horse to catch them. They take off only when it is clear that the pursuer has almost overtaken them, and it will not be possible to escape. A turkey can fly a hundred meters, rarely several hundred, after which it ends up on a tree or continues to run. But even if she didn’t get a chance to fly, she does it at least once a day – when she settles for the night on a tree.

During the day, the bird travels long distances, but usually does not move away from its usual habitat, but walks in circles. They can move only when living conditions deteriorate, usually at once with the whole group. To communicate with each other, turkeys use various sounds, and their set is quite extensive. These birds love to “talk” and when it's calm, you can hear them exchanging sounds. But when the flock calms down, it means that they are alert and listening – this usually happens if there is an extraneous sound.

A turkey lives in the wild for an average of three years. But basically, such a short lifespan is due to the fact that she is threatened by many dangers, and she almost never manages to die of old age. The most cunning, careful and lucky birds can live 10-12 years.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Turkey Chicks

Photo: Turkey Chicks

Each flock of turkeys lives on its own territory, and quite extensive – about 6-10 square kilometers. After all, they travel a long distance in a day, and it is important that other turkeys do not eat all the tastiest things on their way – this is why you need your own land. When the mating season begins, then the males who used to stay alone – they are also called “toms”, begin to call the females with loud sounds. If they are interested, they should respond with similar ones. The plumage of the toms becomes much brighter and begins to shimmer in different colors, and the tail unfurls like a fan. This time comes at the beginning of spring. Turkeys puff up, trying to appear bigger (hence the expression “puffed up like a turkey), and importantly walk around, showing the females their beautiful plumage. Sometimes fights even arise between them, although they do not differ in excessive cruelty – the defeated bird usually just goes to another site.

When females are nearby, the tom's neck warts turn red and swell, and they begin to make a gurgling sound in an attempt to attract a female. The beauty of the plumage and the activity of the bird really play an important role – the biggest and loudest birds attract more females. Turkeys are polygamous – in one mating season, a female can mate with several males. After the mating season, nesting time comes, each female separately looks for a place for a nest and arranges it. Although it happens that two at once lay in one nest. The nest itself is just a hole in the ground lined with grass. The turkey does not participate in the process in any way, as well as in incubation, and then in feeding the chicks – the female does all this alone. She usually lays 8-15 eggs and incubates them for four weeks. The eggs are large in size, their shape resembles a pear, the color is yellowish-smoky, most often in a red speck.

During incubation, the pale coloring is good for turkeys: it is more difficult for predators to notice them. In order to remain unnoticed, they also try to nest in places covered with vegetation. During the incubation period, they themselves eat little, trying to spend all the time on eggs, but their nest is almost defenseless: the turkey itself cannot oppose anything to large predators. Small ones can be driven away from the nest, but they can wait until she leaves to eat and ruin it.

If all dangers have been avoided and the chicks have hatched, they do not need to carry food: they are almost immediately ready to follow their mother in a flock and peck at it themselves. From birth, chicks have good hearing and distinguish their mother's voice from others. They grow up very quickly, and already at the age of two weeks they begin to learn to fly, and by three they master flight – as far as it is generally available to a turkey. At first, the mother spends the night on the ground with the brood, and as soon as they learn to fly, they all begin to take off together for the night on one tree. When the chicks are one month old, the mother returns with them to her herd. Thus, the group that gradually dispersed in the spring gathers back in the summer and becomes much larger. For the first six months, the chicks walk with their mother, and then become completely independent. By the next mating season, they already have their own chicks.

Natural enemies of turkeys

Photo: What a turkey looks like

Photo: What a turkey looks like

You can catch adult turkeys or chicks, as well as destroy their nests:

  • eagles;
  • owls;
  • coyotes;
  • cougars;
  • lynxes.

These are fast and agile predators that are difficult to compete with even a large turkey, and even a tree can not escape from birds. For each of these, the turkey is a tasty dish, so these are its worst enemies. But she also has smaller opponents – they usually do not hunt for adult birds, but they can feast on chicks or eggs.

These are:

  • foxes;
  • snakes;
  • rats;
  • skunks;
  • raccoons.

There are much more of them than large predators, and therefore it is much more difficult for chicks to survive, even despite the fact that at first their mother is inseparably with them. Less than half of the chicks survive the first weeks – the period when they still do not know how to fly at all and they are in the greatest danger. Finally, among the enemies of the turkey, one should not forget people – they hunted this bird for a long time, even the Indians did it, and after the Europeans settled the continent, hunting began to be much more active, which almost led to the extermination of the species. That is, some people killed more turkeys than all other predators combined.

Interesting fact: Spaniards brought turkeys to Europe, and gradually they spread to other countries. About where these birds came from, people often did not know at all. So, in England, it was called turkey, that is, Turkish, because it was believed that it was brought from Turkey. And the English settlers who sailed to America took turkeys with them – they did not know that they were sailing to their historical homeland.

Population and status view

Photo: Pair of turkeys

Photo: Pair of turkeys

Despite the fact that domestic turkeys are massively bred in America, many people are engaged in hunting wild ones. So, in the USA, during special seasons, hunting for them is allowed everywhere, since the population of the species is large, nothing threatens it. The total number of these birds is about 16-20 million. But this was not always the case: due to active fishing, wild turkeys were almost exterminated by the 1930s. There were no more than 30 thousand of them in all of North America. In many states, they have ceased to be found at all, and have survived only in the most sparsely populated parts of the United States.

But timely measures were taken to protect the species, and the turkeys themselves turned out to be birds that breed rapidly in favorable conditions. By 1960, their range had recovered to historic levels, and by 1973, there were 1.3 million of them in the United States. Now the population, perhaps, is greater than ever before due to the area artificially expanded to the north. And yet, so that the situation of the first half of the 20th century does not repeat itself, the number of this bird is now carefully monitored, each individual killed during the hunt is recorded. There are many hunters every year, and they hunt with guns and traps. At the same time, they say that the meat of wild turkeys is superior to domestic meat in terms of taste.

The turkey continues to live the same way as before. The colonization of America by Europeans seriously hit this species, so that they almost died out. Fortunately, the species is now safe and more common than ever, and turkey hunting is still popular in North America.

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