Saturday, December 11, 2010

Talking Turkey

You probably know that turkeys are native to the Northern Hemisphere.  So how did they get the name turkey?  Possibly for a variety of reasons.  Wikipedia says that it came from their resemblance to guineafowl which had been imported to Europe from Turkey.  The name stuck.  Others attribute the name to the Native American name of "firkee" for the bird.
The red, white and blue head of the turkey gives it a patriotic look.  Benjamin Franklin wrote that the turkey would be a better choice for the American bird than the eagle.  He felt the eagle was a carrion feeder which stole from other birds.  He goes on:
"For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."
Either way, it was brought to Europe by a 16th century explorer by the name of William Strickland.  He even had he bird included on his family crest.  The Aztecs had all ready domesticated the turkey as a major source of protein, and it is likely that the Spanish importation of the birds led to their domestication in Europe.  Once the domestic turkey was developed in Europe, it came back to the United States in its current form.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the population of the native birds dropped to an estimated 30,000 before restoration efforts brought them back from near extinction.*  Currently wild turkeys are thriving, and have become a popular game animal.  As Franklin noted, they can be aggressive in areas where they become too familiar with humans, leading to attacking us.  This seems only fair as hunters killed 247 this year in Greene County alone.  As a mild threat, they can intimidate.

One final question finally comes up.  For a bird that is supposed to be dumb, how can they be so hard to hunt?  MDC has posted an entertaining short video on wild turkey trivia.

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