Tame Turkeys

With Thanksgiving safely behind them, this flock of about two dozen Wild Turkeys ambled along Marina Boulevard just outside the park entrance. They cared nothing about cars and trucks passing within a few feet of them, and acted entirely like they owned the place. They’ve become a familiar sight on Berkeley streets, stopping traffic whenever they amble across University Avenue or other busy arteries.

The Berkeley Municipal Code is silent on turkeys, as is the body of State of California laws, except for the classification of different grades of turkey meat. The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects some 281 species, not including Meleagris gallopavo. Hunting these birds in wildlife refuges is strictly regulated. But if there’s law that prevents taking one outside a wildlife preserve, like in a city, I haven’t seen it.

The Wild Turkey has an interesting history. The ancient peoples of Mexico tamed and cultivated these birds for thousands of years before the European conquistadores arrived. The invaders took some of the birds home with them, apparently with a stopover in Constantinople, which led to the birds getting the “Turkey” label. They should have been called “Mexicos.” The English continued breeding the Mexican birds and then the early colonists brought the birds back to North America, where unlimited hunting for the dinner table almost extirpated them.

The Cornell bird lab website has these additional Cool Facts about these birds:

Male Wild Turkeys provide no parental care. Newly hatched chicks follow the female, who feeds them for a few days until they learn to find food on their own. As the chicks grow, they band into groups composed of several hens and their broods. Winter groups sometimes exceed 200 turkeys.

As Wild Turkey numbers dwindled through the early twentieth century, people began to look for ways to reintroduce this valuable game bird. Initially they tried releasing farm turkeys into the wild but those birds didn’t survive. In the 1940s, people began catching wild birds and transporting them to other areas. Such transplantations allowed Wild Turkeys to spread to all of the lower 48 states (plus Hawaii) and parts of southern Canada.

Because of their large size, compact bones, and long-standing popularity as a dinner item, turkeys have a better known fossil record than most other birds. Turkey fossils have been unearthed across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago.

When they need to, Turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking.


There’s also interesting and fun material about these birds on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service page titled “Wild Facts About Wild Turkeys.”

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

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