this family scene with her camera one cloudy morning.
How soft the little poults look, both hen and poults
apparently unafraid of either Melanie or the camera.
They must know this is a safe place, even with the
cats peering down at them from only a few feet away in
There are two species of wild
turkeys in the western hemisphere – the Meleagris gallopavo
and the Melgeagris
ocellata, the latter found only in Central
The Meleagris gallopavo,
in turn, is divided into five subspecies, of which the M. gallopavo merriami
is the subspecies introduced throughout the Intermountain
West in the mid 1900s. In this habitat,familiar to that in
which this subspecies evolved over many centuries, the
annual rainfall averages between 15 and 23 inches. The
area has brushy flatland and brushy, lightly forested
foothills and, where this habitat is not disrupted by
logging, the birds do very well.
four other subspecies have been reintroduced throughout
the country, including the northeast where the wild
turkeys (M. Gallopavo
silvestris), were found by the pilgrims in1620. By 1900,
these native birds had been hunted almost to extinction.
This fact most likely led to the belief among many hunters
and wildlife managers that turkeys were never present in
the eastern part of the United States, nor perhaps in any
part of the United States.
fact, after recent DNA studies of ancient turkey remains
(bones and droppings) by the University of Washington, the
University of British Columbia, and other groups, there is
solid evidence that Native Americans first tamed turkeys
2,000 years ago. Also, the turkeys we eat today may have
descended from breeds raised by the Aztecs and earlier
ancient Mexicans and taken back home by the Spanish
explorers in the 1500s. These birds, the theory goes,
became popular in Europe, and were exported back to the
United States. Moreover, the Aztec domestic turkey was
most likely bred from Melgeagris
gallopavo gallopavo, the subspecies of wild
turkey once native to Mexico.
But the researchers say there is much
more testing of wild, museum, and archeological samples
before all the gaps can be filled in and the story of
domestication by the Native Americans of wild turkeys can
be completely clarified.
know they were living wild in the New England area in
1620. William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation writes in
his notes on the Pilgrims' first thanksgiving in the
autumn of 1621, that the Pilgrims went out with their guns
and came back with, among other things, a “great store of
wild turkeys” for the winter. But I also wondered what the
Native Americans thought about that. The turkeys' biggest
attraction for the Native Americans were their feathers as
adornment and were their first interest in the birds,
rather than the meat. I hope that among the bags of dead
turkeys the Native Americans were able to extract a few
bags of feathers for themselves.
our lovely visiting hen and her poults – we’re assuming
that she comes here from her nesting area in the foothills
or close by in the river bottom, the poults trailing
behind her. By this time they’re full grown, and search
with the hen through the bushes and along the ground for
berries and insects and perhaps small rodents, garden
snakes, and snails, oblivious of the cats watching them
curiously from up in the trees and the porch roof. We have
a gallumping black lab in the neighborhood that
occasionally gets loose and comes up to visit, but by the
time she appears, heralded by her happy barking, the
turkeys are up in the trees along with the cats.