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Turkeys are big, spectacular birds who are an increasingly common sight the rest of the year as flocks stride around woods and clearings like miniature dinosaurs. Courting males puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with exuberant gobbling. The Wild Turkey’s popularity at the table led to a drastic decline in numbers, but they have recovered and now occur in every state except Alaska. Here are 5 interesting facts about these beautiful birds:
#1. Turkeys Can Fly
Wild turkeys feed on the ground, which might explain the myth of their flightlessness. They can, in fact, soar for short bursts at up to 55 mph, but their tendency to stay on or near the ground contributed to successful hunting that brought the wild population of turkeys down to about 30,000 in the 1930s.
#2. They Eat Reptiles
Okay, so that’s not all they eat, but turkeys do have quite a diet throughout their lifetime. Baby turkeys, called poults, eat berries, seeds and insects, while adults have a more varied diet that can include acorns and small reptiles.
#3. Turkeys Eggs Wouldn’t Sell
Chickens are champion egg-producers. Turkeys, not so good. Turkey eggs are bigger, so their nests tie up coop space. And farmers have learned that they make more raising turkeys for meat rather than eggs. Oh, and some turkeys are protective of their eggs, making the gathering more challenging.
#4. They Were Nearly Extinct
The wild turkey was hunted nearly to extinction by the early 1900s, when the population reached a low of around 30,000 birds. After World War II, biologists started the first successful hatch-and-release efforts, which helped bring about a resurgence of the bird in North America.
#5. The Pilgrims Did Not Eat Turkey
Contrary to popular belief, most of the traditional foods that adorn our holiday tables today were not consumed by the pilgrims and Native Americans. America owes its feasting tradition to the work of one woman: Sarah Josepha Hale.
Hale, an entrepreneurial homemaker in the mid 19th century (think Martha Stewart of the 1800s) championed the idea of a holiday to celebrate America by being thankful for what we have and giving back to others who do not. Hale’s early articles featured substantial turkey dinners in ladies’ magazines and cookbooks. After lobbying several politicians for 17 years, she was eventually able to convince President Lincoln that Thanksgiving needed to be a national holiday, which was declared on October 3, 1863.