The eastern wild turkey is abundant in Kentucky and finds ideal habitat here in The Parklands. This classic Thanksgiving food was one of the original staple foods for Native Americans and early pioneers. As more people moved into Kentucky hunting pressures combined with loss of forest habitat threatened the wild turkey. According to Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, by the year 1947 all that remained of the once abundant animal was a small population living at Land Between the Lakes. In the 1950’s the number of Eastern wild turkeys in Kentucky was estimated at less than 900.
Through the efforts of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and the cooperation of neighboring states who traded deer and otter for turkey, populations of eastern wild turkey have been restored. The habitat requirements of wild turkey include both mature forest and open grassy areas. Turkeys are omnivores and will eat both plants and animals, depending on the season. They rely heavily on acorns produced by mature oak trees to sustain them through the fall and winter months, but also prey on small amphibians and reptiles including frogs, salamanders, lizards and snakes. Turkeys in turn become food for predators such as bobcats, foxes, owls, skunks and even coyotes.
Turkeys may be hard to spot in the forest as their coloration provides a protective camouflage, but they often leave behind distinctive signs or markings. When turkeys scrape the ground in search of insects or acorns, they leave behind a classic “V” shaped mark. Turkeys also dust themselves by rolling in the dirt to remove parasites from their feathers. This behavior creates a depression or small bowl in the earth leaving behind evidence of turkey activity.
While turkeys prefer to walk or run, they can fly at speeds up to 50 mph.Their excellent hearing and eyesight make them keenly aware of predators. Turkeys roost in trees high above the ground in groups of 6-40, and are most active in the mornings and evenings.
The eastern wild turkey nearly became the national symbol of The United States of America, being narrowly upset by the Bald Eagle in a Congressional vote. Ben Franklin may have been one of the biggest supporters of the turkey. In a letter addressed to his daughter in 1775 Ben Franklin wrote:
“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”