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Benjamin Franklin would have preferred to have the Wild Turkey, not the Bald Eagle, chosen as the national symbol of the United States. Although the barnyard variety is a rather dull creature (leading to the insulting tone of the term “turkey”), the original wild form is a wary and magnificent bird.

Wild Turkeys usually get around by walking or running, but they can fly strongly, and they typically roost overnight in tall trees. There are only two species of Wild Turkey; ours in North America and the Ocellated Turkey in Central America.

Depleted at the beginning of the 20th century, they have been successfully reintroduced to most of their former range, and established in new areas, including here in Kittitas County.

They live in a variety of habitats including forests and wooded swamps; while their favored locations are woodland areas with open clearings. Many people have enjoyed seeing them on the river bank while rafting down the Yakima River in the summer. Their diet is varied but includes mostly plant material including acorns, leaves, seeds, grains, berries, buds, grass blades, roots and bulbs. This includes tasty garden plants and bulbs, to which some gardeners in town will attest. They also eat insects, snails and sometimes lizards and snakes. They forage mostly by walking on the ground, scratching in leaf litter.

In the spring, the male gives a throaty gobbling call to attract females. In courtship, the males puff out feathers, raise and spread their tail, swell up face wattles, and droop wings. In this posture they then strut, rattling wing feathers and making humming sounds. The nest is on the ground in a shallow depression, sparsely lined with grass and leaves.

They have a large clutch of eggs, usually 10-15. Sometimes more than one female will lay eggs in one nest. Incubation by the female takes about a month and the downy young leave the nest soon after hatching. The female tends the hatchlings, however the young feed themselves immediately. They are not full-grown for several months.

Audubon climate scientists forecast that between 70-80% of the Wild Turkey’s habitat will be maintained in Washington state.

For more information go to audubon.org and kittitasaudubon.org for local news and events. Happy Thanksgiving.

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