Posted On: 11/24/2016 - 3:08pm, Posted By: Emily Imhoff, Collections Manager - Zoology
Here comes Thanksgiving Day, and with it, thoughts of turkey! Many people celebrate this holiday by eating turkey, and sometimes Thanksgiving is even referred to as Turkey Day.
The turkeys available from farmers and supermarkets are domesticated varieties of the Wild Turkey. These birds were first domesticated by native cultures in present-day Mexico, then taken to Europe where they became very popular. They continue to be selectively-bred by humans on multiple continents today. They are all the same species, Meleagris gallopavo, and are related to grouse, pheasants, and peafowl. There is another species of turkey, the Ocellated Turkey (M. ocellata), found in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Mounted Wild Turkey from the Zoology Collection. Notice the long “beard” growing from the breast which indicates that this is a male.
The Wild Turkey is native to most of North America’s forested areas, including Ohio, and was an important animal for Native Americans living in this region. Native cultures in the present-day United States used turkeys for their meat, feathers, and bones. However, European settlers overhunted the turkey and altered much of Ohio’s landscape, reducing forest cover from approximately 95% to less than 20% of the state’s surface area. By the late 1800s, the Wild Turkey was extirpated from the state. Soon after, the Division of Forestry was formed and began the work of restoring the state’s forests. Starting in the 1950s the Division of Wildlife began releasing turkeys back into the state. The birds have done well in areas with restored forests, mainly in southeastern Ohio. Regulated hunting seasons also help ensure that Ohioans can enjoy these birds for years to come. Have you seen a Wild Turkey in Ohio or a nearby state?
Wild Turkeys may appear to be simply dark brown from a distance, but actually have different types of feather patterns over their bodies that provide them with camouflage in a forest.
Learn more about the natural history of these fascinating birds (and hear their sounds) by following these links!
Photo on left shows Wild Turkey feathers in moderate lighting, while photo on right shows the same feathers on the same bird in front of a strong light source. Why might Wild Turkey gobblers (males) prefer to show off for females in areas with sunlight instead of deep in the forest?
Native Americans of the Fort Ancient culture (1000AD – 1650AD) used turkey bones to make useful tools and decorative beads. In the photos you can see various perforating tools. These were used to make holes in leather for sewing purposes. These perforators were found in the Cincinnati area at Fort Ancient archeological sites.
Bird bone perforator tools from the Archeology Collection.
These tools are sharpened by rubbing the bones on sandstone. Maybe you can try making a tool with the remains of your dinner!
Bird bone perforator tool with a carved wave pattern along the top.