Tag Archive | Turkey

The Cultural History of Turkeys in America

A tom turkey

Turkey from Iowa County captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Thanksgiving arrives next week, and the iconic image that pops into most people’s minds during this holiday is a big, roasted turkey in the middle of the kitchen table. But how did these large birds become a classic representation of this holiday? We took some time to dive a little deeper and learn more about the history of turkeys in North America, how Thanksgiving became a holiday, and how turkeys ended up as the main attraction on this day.

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have always been native to the Americas. In fact, there is only one other species of turkey in the entire world: the Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata), which lives in Central America, and has beautiful plumage that more closely resembles a peacock than the wild turkeys we are familiar with.

Importance in Native American Culture

Before their popularity in modern Thanksgiving feasts, turkeys have been an important part of the food and cultural systems of Native Americans for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of wild turkeys being domesticated by certain indigenous groups as far back as 2,000 years ago. Not all native communities domesticated the birds since they were so abundant, but tribes in the American southeast, southwest, central Mexico, and Guatemala were especially known for their domestication of turkeys.

Beyond serving as a source of food, the rest of the turkey’s feathers and bones were used for tools, regalia, and art. The reverence of turkeys varied widely from tribe to tribe and has a complex and beautiful history in native culture. The Wampanoag tribe in the east used turkey feathers for cloaks, while the Tuscarora and Catawba in the south used plumage for headdresses. In other tribes, turkeys played a role in traditional stories. The Caddo have a prestigious Turkey Dance related to tribal songs of war, honor and pride. Even through generations of genocide, forced removal from their lands, and substantial portions of culture that have been lost forever, turkeys still carry importance in the lives and ceremonies of many tribes today.

Two tom turkeys displaying

Turkeys captured on Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Introduction of Turkeys to Europeans

Turkeys made their debut in European and Asian cuisine in the 1500s through Spanish trade routes. Many suspect that they received their name because these birds came to Europe by way of the country of Turkey. They were so popular with Europeans that the colonists even brought domesticated turkeys with them as they sailed to North America. To the colonists’ surprise, the large birds were already fairly abundant here.

Two turkeys and two deer

Turkeys encountering deer on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

The Founding of Thanksgiving

Despite popular legend, wild turkey was not served at the 1621 meal shared between the Wampanoag natives and the pilgrims. Instead, deer meat was provided by Wampanoag hunters.

The pilgrims had many seasonal “days of thanks” for a good fall harvest, and continued this tradition when they moved to North America, however there was not originally one common day that this was celebrated on.

In the mid-1800s, writer Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned to make a single national holiday out of these common thanksgiving celebrations. Her goal was to bring the country together at a time when the Civil War was eminent. In 1863, Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving as a U.S. national holiday.

Flock of Turkeys

Flock of turkeys captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

How Turkeys Became a Thanksgiving Icon

Turkeys became the meat of choice for Thanksgiving celebrations because they were easy to harvest and their size was enough to feed a large family. Many families even had domesticated turkeys that they raised on their farms specifically for the purpose of a holiday meal.

Unfortunately, their popularity soon became their downfall as wild turkeys were overharvested throughout the 1800s. Soon, they were no longer found in most states. The last turkey disappeared from Wisconsin in 1881.

Startled Turkey

Turkey spreading its wings on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Wildlife Success Story

Fortunately, nationwide efforts to revive turkey populations have been largely successful. In Wisconsin, wild turkeys were reintroduced by the Department of Natural Resources in 1976. Twenty-nine wild turkeys imported from Missouri were released in Vernon County. As they began to flourish, the new turkeys were trapped and relocated to other counties across the state. Now, tens of thousands of wild turkeys are harvested every year in Wisconsin. Click here for more details about hunting turkey in Wisconsin.

Whether you enjoy them for their meat, their beautiful plumage, or the fierce confidence they embody as they strut across the road, take a moment to give thanks that these magnificent birds are still around today!

A tom turkey displaying its feathers in the woods

A tom turkey displaying on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

 

Sources
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/where-did-the-domestic-turkey-come-from/
https://ebird.org/species/ocetur1
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161121111328.htm
http://www.native-languages.org/legends-turkey.htm
https://www.colorado.edu/asmagazine/2018/02/27/native-americans-domesticated-turkeys
https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-we-eat-turkey-on-thanksgiving
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-eat-ymology-of-the-turkey-48036170/
https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-hale
https://www.eekwi.org/animals/birds/wild-turkey
https://p.widencdn.net/vpukwf/turkupdate
https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/hunt/turkey

Summer Turkey Poults

From deer fawns to fox kits and even turkey poults, summer is a great time to observe young wildlife! This scene featuring a pair of adult turkeys and five poults was captured on a Sawyer County Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

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Are you interested in exploring the wonders of Wisconsin wildlife from your home? Visit www.SnapshotWisconsin.org to view images captured from trail cameras across the state. It’s a fun and educational activity for all!

Turkey Fight Captured on Camera

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

One of Snapshot Wisconsin’s educators, Skylar from Marquette County, managed to capture quite the epic turkey fight in front of their classroom’s trail camera. Skylar shared, “Judging from the time stamps, the altercation lasted for at least 3 minutes. I imagine that it would be really terrifying in real life.”

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Certainly a scene you wouldn’t want to stumble upon in the woods, but a great one to observe from a trail camera!

Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

Displaying Spring Turkey

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Here’s a fun fact – adult turkeys can sport up to 6,000 feathers! Snapshot Wisconsin volunteers get the unique opportunity to witness these birds struts their feathers through the lens of their trail camera during the turkey breeding season each spring. Take a look at this tom captured in front of an Adams County camera!

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Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org?

Snowy Wisconsin Turkey

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

As we trudge into the depths of Wisconsin winter, are you prepared?

While turkeys aren’t our most graceful bird, we can all take lessons from them when it comes to bundling up to stay warm amongst the snowy cold!

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Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org?

November #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a tom turkey dressed up in his best bow-tie wattle and ready for Thanksgiving dinner! Turkeys use their wattles for a variety of reasons. This loose skin around their neck allows them to expel extra heat during the hot summer months. Male turkeys (toms) also use their wattle to attract female turkeys (hens) when blood rushes to the area, causing the wattle to turn a bright red color. If a turkey is frightened, blood may also rush out of their wattle, causing it to turn blue.

A tom turkey

Thank you to all our Zooniverse volunteers for nominating their #SuperSnaps. Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

Classic November Face Off

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

A classic November face off, which gets you more excited for this month – opening day for gun season or Thanksgiving dinner?

Check out this scene captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

Wisconsin Turkey

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Restoration of the wild turkey population remains one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in Wisconsin. In fact, turkey are the fourth most common animal captured on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras accounting for 4% of the wildlife photos behind deer, squirrel and raccoon.

Check out this tom displaying in front of a Marathon County Snapshot Wisconsin camera!

To learn more about turkey management in Wisconsin, visit “Ecology of Wild Turkey in Wisconsin”. Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

Snapshot Saturday: March 23rd, 2019

Happy Snapshot Saturday featuring a rafter of Trempealeau County turkeys!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

Snapshot Saturday: November 24th, 2018

For those of you also still enjoying leftovers, happy Snapshot Saturday!

Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.