Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No 41   November 17, 1945
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

George Washington, in the first year of his presidenoy, issued a proclamation recommending November 26, 1789, be kept as a day of national thanksgiving for the establishment of a form of government that made for safety and happiness. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in which he "appointed and set aside" the last Thursday in November as a day of national thanksgiving "for the defense against unfriendly designs without and signal victories over the enemy who is of our own household. " Since then each president has observed this cufitom, varied only by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Some time in October or November 1621, by proclamation of Governor Bradford, the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony celebrated their first official American harvest festival. They recorded that "our harvest heing gotten in, our Governor sent foure men on fowling so that we might after a more special manner rejoyce together after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They foure in one day killed as much fowle as, with a little help besides, served the Company about a weeke." Apparently the "fowle" were mostly wild ducks and geese but they found also a "great store of Turkies" in the vicinity of Plymouth.

The wild turkey is the largest of all our game birds. The hens have a querulous, chirping call which sounds like "turk, turk, turk". The cocks, known as "gobblers" because of their peculiar "gobble, gobble" call, attain a length of four feet and weigh from 20 to 30 pounds or more. The wild turkey, with its bright blue head, long slender legs and stream-lined body, is a darker, showier, gamier-appearing bird than our domesticated bronze turkey which is a descendant of the Mexican wild turkey that was introduced into Europe by the Spaniards in the 16th century and then returned to this country. The turkey, therefore, is our only domestic animal of native origin.

There were four sub-species: the eastern, the Florida, the Rio Grand, and Merriam's, db:lmgulshed by differences in plumage. They once ranged over southern Ontario, the east, central and southern portions of the United States, including the southern Rocky Mountain region, and Mexico except in its western and southern regions. Apparently the determining factor in the original distribution was the occurrence of oaks, pecan, beech and other nut-bearing trees for winter food, and the occurrence of berry-producing trees and shrubs such as dogwood, holly, black gum, wild cherry, huckleberry, wild grape, etc.

Examination of a large number of turkey stomachs disclosed the average content to be 15.57 percent animal matter -- largely grasshoppers, circkets or locusts with a small percentage of flies, beetles and caterpillars -- and 84.43 percent vegetable matter (browse, fruit, nuts and acorns, seeds, etc. .

Wild turkeys are strong fliers, swift runners, exceedingly wary and remarkable keen of sight and hearing. They prefer open forests but like to roost in tall trees on branches out over water and will fly wide rivers to reach a favored roost. Timber cutting, grazing and forest fires have destroyed much of their former habitat. This and persistent hunting have brought the wild turkey near to extinct ion. In the Chicago region the last one was killed in the Kankakee Marsh in 1870 or 171. They are now found only in remote swampy bottomlands, such as along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, or in wild mountain country such as the Great Smokies and the Missouri Ozarks.

Many people argue that the turkey, rather than the eagle, is more truly our national bird.

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