While once present in Wisconsin, wild turkeys completely disappeared due to loss of habitat during the lumbering era of the Nineteenth Century, the last known bird having been harvested in 1881. In 1976 Wisconsin traded ruffed grouse to Missouri in exchange for turkeys, releasing 29 birds in January of that year, with 334 more to follow. The reintroduction success has been phenomenal, with more than 45,000 birds being registered in the Spring 2016 hunting season alone.
The wild turkey is Wisconsin’s largest game bird, measuring 2.5 to 3 feet in height, with the male (gobbler) weighing in at 17 to 21 pounds and the hen at 8 to 11 pounds. Wingspans range from about 3 to 4.5 feet. Each bird has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers, which provide wintertime warmth, assistance in flight and which are sported in mating rituals.
Turkeys stay in flocks of 5 to 50 birds. The flock utilizes a home range of more than 1,000 acres. They prefer open grassy or grain field areas next to hardwood forests. The forest provides refuge from predators and a roosting place at night. Food consists of plants, insects, acorns, seeds and fruit.
Turkeys are wary, shy birds with excellent eyesight. They see in color, and have a 270 degree field of vision. They are capable of flying at over 55 miles per hour, but only for short distances. They prefer to run from predators, having a top speed of about 25 miles per hour.
While turkeys are North American birds, they originally derived their name, somewhat indirectly, from the nation of Turkey. They bear some resemblance to the guinea fowl of central Europe, sometimes called “turkey fowl” because originally imported there from Turkey. They are different birds, but somehow the name just stuck.
Had Benjamin Franklin had his way the turkey, not the bald eagle, would be our National Bird. Ben lost that argument.