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November 18, 2004

Turkey Talk: Many Differences between Wild and Domestic Birds

Turkeys from NWTF
Note to News Media: This and other print-quality photos of Eastern wild turkeys are available at the NWTF website. Click here for photo gallery. Photo credit: Maslowski/NWTF.

CONCORD, N.H. -- For many, the word Thanksgiving brings turkeys to mind. Domestic or wild, turkeys are one of our most notable birds -- Benjamin Franklin once wrote a letter to his daughter saying that he thought the wild turkey's traits made it a more fitting national symbol than the bald eagle to represent the United States. During the Thanksgiving holidays, turkeys become a national symbol, and millions of families gather to cook and serve the fat, white domesticated turkey for their dinner. Some, however, prefer to serve the traditional wild turkey that our ancestors feasted upon.

Today, the wild turkey, along with its domestic cousin, is a common sight across much of North America, including New Hampshire. In the early 1900s, only about 30,000 wild turkeys remained nationwide. Today, the number of wild turkeys nationally stands at over 6.4 million birds, thanks to trap-and-transfer efforts by wildlife agencies such as New Hampshire Fish and Game, and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). These programs removed wild turkeys from an area with a high population and placed them in areas of suitable habitat with fewer turkeys.

Hunters can bring home a wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner in New Hampshire today because the birds have made a real comeback in the state. Wild turkeys had completely disappeared in New Hampshire by the mid-1800s, eliminated by a combination of market and subsistence hunting, habitat loss and the lack of regulation or management. In 1975, Fish and Game released 25 wild turkeys in New Hampshire; and careful management based on good science has allowed the Fish and Game Department to grow that initial introduction to more than 25,000 birds today. This population is a true wildlife restoration success story in the Granite State, one made possible in large part by funding from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program.

New Hampshire has had a hunting season for wild turkeys since 1980. The state's fall season for turkeys, which runs from September 15 through December 15, is archery-only. New Hampshire's most popular turkey-hunting season is the spring gobbler season in May, when hunters are allowed to use firearms. In 2003, New Hampshire hunters took a total of 270 turkeys in the fall archery-only season; 2,599 turkeys were taken during last year's spring gobbler season. In 2003, about 16,000 turkey hunting permits were issued by Fish and Game.

Can you tell the difference between wild and domestic turkeys? It's easy to tell them apart:

PHYSICAL TRAITS:

  • Domestic turkeys can't fly -- or even run very fast - making them easy pickings for any predator. Their neck skin, or wattles, are heavier than wild turkeys'. Snoods, the finger-like appendage that hangs over the bill, are longer on domestic turkeys, and breasts are much larger and broader. The domestic also possesses a temperament suited to confinement.

  • Wild turkeys are sleek, alert and built for speed and survival. Their senses are sharpened through generations of living in a harsh, unforgiving environment. A wild turkey that loses its caution will soon become a predator's dinner. This constant state of caution has made the wild turkey one of the toughest game animals in the world to hunt or even photograph.

TURKEY CALLS:

  • Male domestic turkeys respond with a squeaky gobble to almost any noise and seem to stay in a vocal mood.

  • Male wild turkeys have learned that too much talking can attract things other than turkeys, like predators and hunters, so they don't gobble as often. True skill is required to consistently call in the elusive wild turkey gobbler.

  • Female domestic and wild turkeys generally sound the same, making noises known as the yelp, cutt, purr and kee-kee.

LIVING ENVIRONMENT:

  • Domestic turkeys are normally found in pens on poultry farms, feeding on corn and other feed mixes.

  • Wild turkeys are found throughout forests and wooded areas across North America. They feed on acorns, beechnuts, weed seeds, insects, wild berries and fruits.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats; click here to find out more about wild turkeys and turkey hunting in New Hampshire.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of the North American hunting tradition. For more information about the NWTF, call 1-800-THE-NWTF or click here.

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