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December 8, 2009

Wild About Utah: Wild Turkeys

The pilgrims had turkeys for the first Thanksgiving, but the likelihood that turkeys roamed Utah at that time is small. Archaeologists have found turkey bones in pueblos in the south-eastern corner of the state. But, it is not known if they were domesticated or wild birds. However, like the ring-necked pheasant, and chukar partridge, more than 20,000 wild turkeys now roam Utah thanks to hunters and wildlife professionals.

Turkeys are the largest upland game bird in Utah. Toms stand 4 feet high with tails fanned. Hens stand 3 feet tall. First year birds are called Jakes and Jennies.

Three of the five sub-species of wild turkey were introduced to Utah. Eastern turkeys lived on Antelope Island from 1925 through the 1950s. The Merriam's, from the ponderosa pine habitat of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado were introduced in 1952. And Rio Grandes, native to cottonwood river bottoms of Texas, were introduced in 1984.

Merriam's turkeys are blacker than the eastern turkey, with reflections of blue, bronze, and purple. Tail coverts, the feathers of the lower back that cover the tail feathers, are white on a Merriam's turkey and buff or tan on a Rio Grande. For protection, turkeys roost in trees, but descend to feed under or near trees during the day. Except when nesting, they prefer protection in numbers and rarely wander alone.

In winter they roost in flocks, but disperse as far as 10 miles to nest. Hens lay 10-11 eggs near brushy cover and incubate them for 28 days. They eat pine nuts, acorns, seeds, insects and green vegetation.

The main predators are hawks, golden eagles, foxes, coyotes, dogs, cats, skunks, raccoons, ravens, and magpies. Fortunately, the numbers hatched usually overcome predation losses.

Thanks this holiday goes to the National Wild Turkey Foundation and Utah DWR for our Wild Turkeys.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Wild Turkeys in Smithfield, UT
Copyright © 2009 Lyle Bingham


Text: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon

Wild About Utah is a weekly nature series produced by Utah Public Radio in cooperation with Stokes Nature Center and Bridgerland Audubon Society. Archives of the program can be found at www.wildaboututah.org.

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