Turkeys: A Conservation Success Story

Nov 19, 2017

Discover Nature this week and your Thanksgiving turkey.

Chances are a turkey will land on your table this week -- a bird simmered in American tradition. The turkey was once so common in America and so well liked, that when United States officials were deciding on a national mascot there was much deliberation between the bald eagle and the turkey.

The largest of North American game birds, turkeys are large and powerful, standing up to three feet tall when alert. These birds are easily identified with their bare red and blue necks. Their long legs, broad wings, and tail make them swift runners as well as quick flyers for short distances. Their feathers are large -- mostly brown -- and barred with black. Body feathers reflect shades of bronze, green, gold, and blue; beautiful colors that help turkeys blend into wooded areas.

Historically, turkeys were domesticated by Native Americans and brought to Europe in the 16th century. Taken from Mexico by the Spanish conquistadors, turkeys later returned as domesticated birds with the English settlers. The wild turkey almost disappeared from our continent due to excessive hunting and loss of forest habitat.

Thanks to conservation efforts, all 114 Missouri counties now have turkey populations sustainable to hunt. Missouri has also made important contributions to restoration programs in other states by swapping Missouri wild turkeys for other wildlife species. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri has traded turkeys for rough grouse, otters, pheasants, prairie chickens, and various kinds of fish.

So, whether you place a wild or domestic turkey on your Thanksgiving table, you'll be sharing a piece of our American heritage and a conservation success story.