Talking Turkey

Because turkeys are a North American bird, it makes sense to have them for the North American holiday of Thanksgiving.

There are about 15 different kinds of turkeys ranging in colour from a slate-blue to the bronze of the wild birds. The most commonly raised breed of turkey looks nothing like it’s wild predecessors. It is pure white and much larger than the originals. This variety has been bred to put on more muscle, and white feathered-birds are easier to clean than black-feathered ones.

I like turkeys. They are very delicate when young, but they grow into big, hardy birds.

At this point the males start to strut around, puffing out their feathers, filling their snoods with blood to impress the females. This is the stereotypical picture of a turkey at Thanksgiving.

The females never look like this; it’s a guy thing.

Turkeys also don’t typically say “gobble, gobble” unless they are startled. Usually they make a chirping or barking noise.

Each sound they make has a different meaning. As poults (baby turkeys), they have a high pitched peeping noise that means they are cold, hungry or stuck somewhere they shouldn’t be. As they get older they make the chirping noise when they are happily eating. And the barking noise usually means “there is something new in our area.”

This barking is sometimes followed by the “gobble, gobble” and together it is their way of sending out an alarm. Mature male turkeys will make a low thrumming noise when strutting around.

Turkeys are also very curious birds. They like shiny things and will peck at them. I have stopped wearing rings because they don’t have very good aim and this can lead to a sore hand.

While butchering turkeys and cleaning out their gizzards we have found all manner of stones and on one occasion a roofing screw. Turkeys need to pick up these stones because it is what grinds up their food in their gizzard.

If given a chance, a turkey will eat more than just grains. There were some years when we fed them fresh cut grass and they couldn’t get enough of it. They also love the dry poplar leaves that drop from the trees this time of year.

Lately we have been cleaning off the garden and the turkeys have been enjoying a variety of leafy greens, loose-leaf lettuce being one of their favourites. Turkeys don’t have a high intellect, but when it comes to food they know what they like.

Not a bad bird to celebrate Thanksgiving with.

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