Talking (Wild) Turkey

“For The Birds”article: EXAMINER NEWS, Westchester, NY – November 2012
Talking (Wild) Turkey: The Grand Comeback of American’s Biggest Game Bird
By Brian Kluepfel

Prior to Europeans’ arrival on these shores, flocks of wild turkeys patrolled the Americas from modern-day southern Canada to central Mexico. Benjamin Franklin admired the “respectable ” bird so much he fancied it over the bald eagle as the national symbol. John James Audubon himself kept one as a pet, and the first illustration in his historic print series “The Birds of American” was none other than a wild turkey.wild turkey photo

However, during Audubon’s time and into the early 20th century, zealous hunting and habitat destruction drove the wild turkey to the brink of elimination; by 1844 they had been extirpated in New York and many other states, Franklin’s candidate and the apply of Audubon’s eye was quickly becoming a historical footnote, perhaps to follow the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet onto the avian disappeared list.

But where humankind had wrought havoc, it also brought a sort of salvation. President Theodore Roosevelt, a fine example of the overlap between conservationists and hunters’ interest, created the national park system and called the turkey ”the king of American game birds.” Various efforts were made to breed wild turkeys and relocate existing flocks, and by the 1960s a massive recovery was underway.

The colorful bird now lives in large numbers in all the lower 48 states, to the point where Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Massachusetts have named the meleagris gallopavo their state game bird — perhaps not an honor as high as state bird, but it beats the heck out of extinction. Like its rival for the United States symbol, both the wild turkey and the bald eagle are wonderful stories of species recovery.