Wild Turkeys

 Wild Turkeys

By Terri Estes

Wild turkeys are abundant in our neighboring areas of Long Island and large parts of New Jersey. While wild turkeys are not as common in urban areas, there have been occasional sightings of these birds in different parts of the city. Turkeys are very adaptable birds, especially if there are suitable green spaces and wooded areas. In recent years, they have been spotted in Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx.

Wild turkeys and domestic turkeys have the same ancestors, but through selective breeding for specific traits, the differences between wild and domestic turkeys are great. Wild turkeys have more streamlined, agile bodies with longer legs and necks. Their plumage is generally more subdued, featuring browns and blacks which helps them blend into their environment. They are skilled flyers and roost in trees at night to avoid predators. Domestic turkeys often have broader bodies and shorter legs and necks, and some breeds of domestic turkeys are all white. Domestic turkeys are selectively bred for rapid growth, since they are generally bred for meat production. Because of this, they lack the athletic abilities of their wild cousins.

A male turkey is referred to as a “tom” and a female turkey is called a “hen.” Toms typically have more vibrant and colorful plumage. During breeding season in the spring, the tom’s feathers can display shades of iridescent red, green, copper and bronze. They also have a beard, a tuft of coarse hair-like feathers, which is absent in females. Males are larger than hens and have longer legs. Females are smaller and their colors are more subtle with browns and grays. This provides better camouflage when nesting. Toms are known for their vocalizations which include the famous gobble sound, which is part of their courtship behavior during the breeding season. During this season, they also engage in elaborate displays such as puffing of their tails and strutting to attract females. Outside of breeding season, the distinctions are much less notable.

Wild turkey meat is leaner with a higher level of muscle than domestic turkey meat. They have a more varied and natural diet, including insects, seeds, fruits and other foraged items.  This influences the flavor of their meat. Domestic turkeys are raised on a controlled diet, and this will also reflect in the flavor of the meat.

So, in the spirit of this holiday, let’s take a moment to be thankful for our local wild turkeys, and all our wildlife. We can all do our part to show our appreciation and respect for our furred, feathered and scaled neighbors. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


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