By Patrick Troyer

Education specialist

Paulding SWCD

In the blink of an eye, here we are at one of the favorite holidays for many, Thanksgiving.

With this holiday, there are many traditions that we all have but how much do you know about the main course? The turkey has been an animal utilized by humans for hundreds of years for both its meat and feathers. Native Americans valued the wild turkey as it was a source of food, sport, and clothing for them.

If it was up to one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, the turkey would have been chosen over the bald eagle as the national symbol of the United States. Franklin revered the magnificent feathers and stature of the wild turkey.

It is important to note that there are two different kinds of turkeys.

There is the wild turkey and the domestic turkey. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) writes that although the wild and domestic turkey may genetically be of the same species, that is about as close as it gets to the two birds sharing any similarity.

One of the most notable differences is the color of the feathers of the two turkeys. The domestic turkey’s feathers are a snow-white color while the wild turkey has a plain brown color with hunts of red, green, copper, and gold mixed in.

The wild turkey is much smaller in size coming in at an average of 24 pounds while the domestic turkey can range anywhere from 30-50 pounds.

The wild turkey can fly while the domesticated turkey does not due to breeding for genetics that lead to turkeys with more meat, according to the South Carolina DNR. Some wild turkeys can fly speeds upwards of 55 miles per hour.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the wild turkey is the largest upland game bird in the state of Ohio standing at four feet tall and weighing up to twenty-four pounds.

At the turn of the 20th century, the wild turkey was nearly extinct in the state. ODNR writes that this is attributed to the expansion of settlement and destruction of their habitat. The Audubon Society writes that the wild turkey typically will get around by walking or running, but they can fly very strongly unlike the domesticated turkey.

Adult male turkeys are known as gobblers and can be identified by a reddish head, a tasseled “beard” that hangs from the breast, black tipped feathers, and spurs on the legs according to ODNR. Males will have big and flashy feathers while the females will not. Females are known as hens and can be identified by a blue head, no beard, no spurs, and buff-tipped breasts according to ODNR.

Commonly, you will find a turkey nest under a dense cover in an open area with the nest appearing as a small depression in the ground with leaves over the hole.

ODNR says that turkeys are polygamous breeders that breed with more than one female and that breeding will typically peak around April with hatching from mid-May through June.

Wild turkeys have the ability to fly within two weeks after they are born unlike their domesticated counterparts.

The wild turkey is a widely adaptable bird to a wide variety of environments. Most generally, wild turkeys will be found where there is a mature forest cover but they are also able to be seen in more open areas. Wild turkeys will commonly feed on grasses, small insects, and forbs. Some may be familiar with the sounds of the turkey. The male’s vocalization is the gobble while the hen’s vocalization is the yelp.

On a national level, there is one tradition that many of us look forward to as does the turkey.

The turkey has received a blessing on its life from the Thanksgiving table each year from the President of the United States.

The History Channel writes that of the 50 million turkeys that find their way on the dinner table, two lucky turkeys are granted a pass on their life, at least temporarily. The pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey is believed to have begun with Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Other White House history buffs will put the origin more recently on President Harry S. Truman as he was the first one to accept a turkey from the National Turkey Federation.

The first official pardoning of a turkey took place with President George H.W Bush in the White House Rose Garden in 1987 according to the History Channel.

Since then, two turkeys received an official pardon on their life from the current sitting president with one turkey as the main pardon and the second serving as an alternate.

Cooper Farms right here in Paulding County was selected for the pardon with turkeys Mac & Cheese making their way to the White House.

The 2018 pardoned turkeys were named Peas and Carrots from South Dakota. Be sure to keep an eye on the news to see who the President selects for the 2019 turkey pardon.