All things Thanksgiving

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs  In honor of our national holiday, here’s a look at some current and past blog posts on the subject. The Chicago Botanic Garden’s blog earlier this week offered a reminder of the three Sisters—the three crops grown together by the Iroquois: corn, beans and squash.  According to the post, “the Iroquois called the Sisters “De-o-ha-ko,” which translates to “life support,” not only because the plants rely on each other as they grow, but also because, eaten together, they provide a healthy, life-sustaining diet for humans.” Last Thanksgiving, EcoTone highlighted the true-life tale of a naturalist who raised a rafter of sixteen wild turkeys, gaining a newfound understanding and deep appreciation for them in the process. A previous autumn, we wrote about the history of the both the holiday and the turkey.  Wild turkey populations in the United States had dipped to extremely low numbers by the early 1900s because of habitat loss and overhunting and it wasn’t until the 1940s that a wild turkey reintroduction effort turned things around.  That year’s post also noted Benjamin Franklin’s strong, favorable opinion of the wild turkey: “….the Turkey is in Comparison [to the Bald Eagle] a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”   Photo: Three Sisters as featured on the reverse of the 2009 Native American U.S. dollar coin. 2009 reverse by Norman E. Nemeth....

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Bonding with wild turkeys

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Just in time for Thanksgiving, comes the true-life tale of a man who raised a rafter of sixteen wild turkeys, gaining a newfound understanding and deep appreciation for them in the process.    My Life as a Turkey aired on PBS last week and shows how naturalist and wildlife artist Joe Hutto immersed himself in the lives of his young charges, becoming part of a strange “tribe” for 18 months. Hutto has a strong interest in imprinting—most obvious in birds such as geese and turkeys, that imprint on their mother and follow them everywhere.  Although farmers and others had taken advantage of this phenomenon for years, Austrian scientist Konrad Lorenz was the first to document the imprinting process. The PBS film is a reenactment of the book Joe Hutto wrote about his experience, Illumination in the Flatwoods.  In it, he incubates the eggs which a farmer has left at his house in the Florida Everglades and then raises the hatchlings to adulthood.  The story chronicles Hutto’s gradual understanding of turkey communication, behavior, as well as the threats facing “his” young brood. After a rat snake manages to squeeze into the pen where Hutto houses the young turkeys, or poults, and kills one, Hutto realizes he must not only reinforce the structure, but also spend every waking minute with the poults, from dawn to dusk.  Indeed, his entire life revolves around the young turkeys.  He bonds with them to such a degree that when they reach the stage of their life where they launch into flight and settle into a tree to roost, he feels left out and clamors up the tree to join them. With their comically gangly necks coupled with surprisingly graceful bodies, the young wild turkeys follow Hutto through the Florida Everglades.  They recoil yet are fascinated when they encounter their first dead animal and seemingly are also bothered by a tree stump, which they inspect for a long while and about which they make many turkey “comments.” One of the most beautifully filmed and entertaining scenes shows Hutto strolling alongside the turkeys as they go on a “grasshopper hunt.”  With barely a pause in their stride, the turkeys expertly snatch the grasshoppers from their grassy perches, as seen in the clip below. Imprinting on ones’ parent early in life is a survival strategy.  But when young animals imprint on humans, the result is often that when the animal reaches adulthood, it is unprepared to live on its own or it interacts inappropriately with its own species or with humans, often resulting in the animal’s death.  To...

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Talking Turkey as Thanksgiving Approaches

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs In a few days, many of us will partake in the American tradition of Thanksgiving Day. Declared a national holiday in 1863 by President Lincoln, this annual feast with family and friends more often than not features a turkey. Most American Thanksgiving dinner platters feature a domestic turkey, a descendant of the wild turkey. Habitat loss and overhunting drove wild turkey (Meleagris galloparo) populations to dangerously low numbers in the early 1900s and efforts to transplant game farm turkeys into the wild failed. In the 1940s, wild turkeys were caught and successfully introduced to new areas where they thrived. Some 7 million birds now live in 49 states, with Alaska the sole state sans wild turkey. Unlike its domestic descendant, Meleagris galloparo can fly. Wild turkeys are omnivores and their diet includes insects, acorns, nuts, seeds, fruits, fern fronds and salamanders. The bird was a favorite meal in eastern Native American tribes who made use of its eggs, meat and feathers and created additional habitat for turkeys by burning sections of forest to create meadows. A male turkey sports a wattle, which is the fleshy growth that hangs from the underside of its beak. On the top of hisbeak is a snood – a fleshy protuberance. The wattle and snood figure in turkey mating rituals, when the male’s face and throat blushes red and blue during mating displays. The gobble sound we all associate with turkeys is used by the males to catch the attention of females during mating season. As wild turkey populations continue to flourish, springtime mating season brings a bounty of stories about turkey-human run-ins. Male turkeys, in their quest for females, venture into cities and suburbs, sometimes actually breaking into human domiciles. In one example, mentioned in a USA Today article, a man in Wenham, Massachusetts returned to his home one spring day to find that a wild turkey had smashed through his living room window: The turkey was patiently sitting on the couch like he was watching TV,” says Wenham Policy Officer William Foley.  But he got angry when he saw us. The bird was eventually captured and released in nearby woods. In addition to these unexpected turkey-people encounters, some one million wild turkeys are legally killed each year by hunters. Hunting organizations are supportive of keeping these wild gobblers around and are eager to point out that wild turkeys make “good neighbors,” as a press release from the National Wild Turkey Federation pointed out. When wine growers in several states became concerned that rafters of wild turkey were eating their grapes, the...

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