Thanksgiving Turkeys at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Scores of turkeys will be brought onto Lathrop land for Thanksgiving–all trussed up for cooking.  Their lives are over, devoted to helping us and our families give thanks.

But the wild turkeys already on our land are very much alive, and they have much to be thankful for.

One cause for thanks is the survival of their species. Turkeys have been around for more than 11 million years. Native Americans hunted them for food and feathers, and some tribes considered them sacred or linked them to the “trickster” figure. Columbus noted their presence, and Ben  Franklin wanted the turkey, not the eagle, as the national bird.

The European settlers were not good news for turkeys, however. Overhunting and deforestation drove them nearly to extinction by the late 1800’s.  Thankfully, however, conservation measures have brought them up to about a million in the U.S.  Some of them live right here at Lathrop.

Our wild turkeys can be thankful for the many traits that help them survive.  The hatchlings, though small and vulnerable, literally hit the ground running.  They are born with feathers, ready to follow Mom and find their own food within 24 hours. As adults, they will be able to run 25 miles an hour and fly 55 miles per hour.

Wild turkeys see in color. Their daytime vision is three times better than ours and covers 270 degrees. Turkeys can send signals. When a turkey is excited, its bald head and fleshy facial wattles change color within seconds–red, pink, white, or blue. A tom turkey’s gobble keeps his harem together; the sound can be heard up to a mile away.

So with all these things to be thankful for,  what will our wild turkeys have for Thanksgiving dinner? All the food groups: meat will be snakes and bugs. Vegetable will be grass.  Starch will be grains. Fruit will be berries. All these foods grow in our Lathrop woods and fields, where we nurture the native plants that insects need, the winterberries and partridge berries that feed all our birds and rodents through the winter, and the meadow grasses and wildflowers that we mow on a wildlife-friendly schedule so their seeds and cover can sustain all the critters for which we give thanks, on this wonderful Lathrop land.

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