How many successful turkey hunters do you know?
Despite common use of “turkey” as an insult to mean “fool,” wild turkeys are wary, clever game birds with keen hearing and sharp, full-color eyesight. Their wide field of vision (270 degrees) makes it almost impossible to slip up behind them. They can fly 55 mph and run 25 mph. Turkeys are the most difficult American game to hunt.
Their sense of smell is poor–otherwise they would be nearly impossible to bag. Hunters capitalize on gobbler interest in hens.
As early as 1000 A.D. American Indians hunted wild turkeys for food and feathers. They used feathers for decorative and ceremonial dress and to stabilize arrows.
Indian headdresses consisted mostly of turkey feathers. The use of turkey feathers for arrow fletchings was practically universal among eastern Indian tribes. Gobbler leg spurs served as arrowheads.
Why Was the Bird Named Turkey?
Europeans mistakenly identified the New World fowl brought back by Spaniards as the turkey-cock, a guinea fowl imported from Africa through Turkey. The name of the country stayed with both birds even though neither was from Turkey.
The bird’s name in other languages also indicates confusion as to its origin. In Turkish it is called hindi, meaning “from India.” In Hebrew it is tarnegol hodu, meaning “Indian chicken.”
Many other languages call it something like “bird of India.” The confusion with India resulted from the mis-identification of the lands Columbus discovered when they were called the Spanish Indies or the New Indies.
In Portuguese the turkey is called peru, referring to the country. In Arabic it is deek roumi meaning “Roman rooster.” In Chinese it is huoji meaning “fire chicken”—after the color of the head.
There are at least 12 U.S. towns named after turkeys, including Turkey, TX and Turkey, NC and three in Kansas.
The National Bird
Benjamin Franklin admired the turkey’s resourcefulness, agility, and beauty. He thought the regal stance of the strutting tom would make a stately symbol for the country and proposed it for the national emblem instead of the eagle.
Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were selected by the First Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 to design a Great Seal for the country. Adams nominated the eagle, probably thinking of the imperial Roman eagle or the German one.
Franklin argued that the eagle was just a cowardly pirate that stole fish from other birds. He observed that the sparrow-sized king bird regularly attacked and drove the eagle away. He offered the turkey as a courageous alternative, giving as evidence that a turkey would unhesitatingly attack British redcoats who invaded a farmyard.
Franklin named male turkeys toms after Thomas Jefferson who opposed Franklin’s suggestion and sided with Adams.
The Wild Turkey lost to the Bald Eagle for the national emblem by a single vote in Congress. But Americans pay more attention to turkeys throughout the year than to eagles. Maybe we should eat eagles on the Fourth of July to help even it out.
Human ears can hear toms gobble from a mile away. Toms love to gobble at loud sounds and when roosting at night. Hens click but don’t gobble. They use varied calls to warn poults of predators. Hens call to incubating eggs to synchronize hatching. Calls vary greatly among individual turkeys. The 28 different calls include gobble, purr, kee-kee, turk-turk, yelp, whine, putt, puff, click, and cluck.
Click Gobble and/or Purr to pop up a window to hear some of the various turkey calls. They may surprise you unless you’re a turkey expert. The purr call is the one I’ve heard most frequently in the woods. It’s the first one to learn for recognizing turkeys.
Hunters mimic these calls to coax turkeys into range and to reassure them (with a purr call) that all is well shortly before shooting.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Read the next Thanksgiving blog post on turkeys:
4. Turkey Theology
Read November’s Bible-Science newspaper column: Tofu Turkeys.
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Monday November 19, 2007 A.D.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!
Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing. (Psalm 107:21-22)