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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote® - The Day of the Turkey

Air Date: Week of November 26, 2010

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The bright colors of the male Wild Turkey. (Photo: Tom Grey©)

The Day of the Turkey: Woe to the turkey that finds its fate on the dinner table. This week’s BirdNote®, narrated by Michael Stein, looks back at the history of both the farmyard and wild turkey.


GELLERMAN: Coming up – a young Native American looks to the stars and helps land a man on the moon. That’s just ahead on Living on Earth.

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.

A female Wild Turkey. (Photo: Tom Grey©)


GELLERMAN: In honor of the nation's favorite feast, we savor the turkey in this week's BirdNote© narrated by Michael Stein.


STEIN: Any farmyard turkey still gobbling on the day after Thanksgiving is a fortunate bird. If that same turkey survives past Christmas dinner, it is a truly lucky fowl.


STEIN: Farmyard turkeys were domesticated from a species called the Wild Turkey, originally native to the eastern and southwestern states and parts of Mexico. Wild Turkey numbers had plummeted by the early 20th Century, due to over-hunting and loss of habitat.

Yet fortune would smile on the Wild Turkey too. Game managers stepped in, re-introducing wild-caught birds to areas where turkeys had become scarce.

From the 1940s onward, there has been an upward trend in Wild Turkey numbers. In fact, turkeys now run wild in all of the lower 48 states and Hawaii, well beyond their original range.


STEIN: But, back to the farmyard turkey. It is likely that the Mayans of southern Mexico had already domesticated turkeys as long as 2000 years ago.

Early Spanish explorers in the New World sailed off with domestic turkeys from Mexico, and soon turkeys were gobbling in farmyards over much of the world.

Will this turkey avoid the dinner plate this year? (Photo: Tom Grey©)

Early European colonists to America’s Atlantic seaboard actually brought domestic turkeys with them, completing the circle back to the New World.

It’s been a long and curious ride for the turkey, showing us both the upside — and downside — of life as a dinner table delicacy.


GELLERMAN: That’s Michael Stein of BirdNote©. To see photos of wild turkeys, scratch a path to our website L-O-E dot org.



Call of the Wild Turkey provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller

Gobble of the domestic turkey provided by Martyn Stewart, Naturesound.org

BirdNote® “The Day of the Turkey” was written by Frances Wood and updated by Bob Sundstrom.


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