Foam Lake Birding No. 63

No. 63
The one thing that I really enjoy about being in the southern USA in the winter is that I get to see many of the birds that occur in the Foam Lake area during the spring and summer months. At the moment only a few have come down here so far; the rest are still up north or in the early stages of migration. The few that have arrived are: White Crowned Sparrow, Say’s Phoebe, Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk), Willet and Widgeon.
This week I have chosen to write about our largest member of the pheasant family (sometimes called the chicken family) – the wild Turkey. It is a native of North America that includes several subspecies or races each of which exhibits slightly different colour or size differences. Our familiar farmyard turkey originates from a Mexican subspecies that sports white tipped tail feathers as opposed to the brown tipped tail of our wild Turkey. The white barnyard turkey is the Mexican race with the brown eliminated through selective breeding
Why did this particular bird get named “Turkey’ and not something else? It was a promotional gimmick. When the turkey was brought to Europe several centuries ago it was felt that people would not be inclined to eat this particular fowl if it came from Mexico, so it was promoted as exotic fowl from Turkey or Turkey fowl. Whether this made a difference in its popularity is unknown, but the name stuck.
When Europeans first arrived in the new world the Turkey was common throughout eastern North America from southern Ontario to Central America. Apparently the Turkey of that era was very tame and confiding, and along with its large size, was easy prey for hunters and was nearly wiped out. (Who doesn’t know the story of the Pilgrims)? Bird books of the 1950”s describe the Turkey as being quite rare and found only in the most secluded and out of the way places in the south eastern USA. How times have changed. It seems the stupid ones have been exterminated leaving only the bright ones, and with the help of Turkey hunters it has been restored over all of its former range and beyond.
I saw my first wild Turkeys in the Winnipeg Zoo some thirty years ago. These were not captive birds but wild ones that had come to the zoo to feed on whatever the zoo had to offer. It was quite a sight to see this small flock fly away. To Winnipeggers living along the Red River it has become a nuisance because of the mess it leaves behind as it visits backyards and patios. Since then I have seen them in southern Manitoba and in the Qu’appelle valley near the town of Fort Qu’appelle. This week’s photo was taken in the Cayumaca Park near Julian, CA. I was very fortunate to get these pictures as Turkeys are very wary of humans and upon sighting them they usually flee. Perhaps they knew they were in the park?
They are spectacular birds that require no description as they are very similar to the domestic Turkey. It is probably only a matter of time before they are spotted in the Foam lake area. Who knows? However, observers should keep in mind that for many years Sandhill Cranes were called wild Turkeys. Why? Because during migration ducks and geese could be identified, but flocks of other large birds with a distinct sound could not. Looking around the farmyard, farmers assumed that these other birds must be turkeys. What else could they be? Had the early settlers known that turkeys are not migratory, this error would not have occurred. So, beware of reports of wild Turkeys being common many years ago. They are not native to the prairies.