Sarasota News Leader

11/16/2012

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Sarasota News Leader November 16, 2012 November 2, 2012 The Wild Turkey has good reasons to be vain. The adult male has some 5,500 feathers, whose beautiful rich hues and iridescent tips recall a forest during an autumn sunset — vi- brant ochre and deep mahogany mingled with silvers and burnished gold. When he is court- ing, the turkey's thick lustrous fan feathers, shimmering in the sunlight, are the envy of strutting dancers at the Folies Bergère. His bald head, snood and wattle change color ac- cording to his emotions, turning red, white and blue — how much more patriotic can one be? A tom (or gobbler), as the adult male is called, can attain running speeds of 25 mph and bursts of flight up to 55 mph. His gobble can be heard a mile away and he is fiercely pro- tective of his territory. He has a laissez-faire attitude toward his offspring, called poults, and lets the hens raise them. Poults are born precocial and unlike the "mama's chick," the Limpkin, are on their own within a few days of birth. John James Audubon admired the Wild Tur- key as much as Franklin did. He demonstrat- ed his affection and great admiration for this symbol of the epic American wilderness by making it his first bird subject in Birds of America. Audubon even embossed his letters with a gold and carnelian signet ring depicting a turkey cock and the phrase, "America My Country." He was that proud of his naturalized American citizenship and that impressed by this native wild bird. Audubon also enjoyed the rich flavor of a cooked Wild Turkey. Many turkey hunters will cook and eat only the turkey breast, the rest being too tough; however, if the turkey is in- jected with wine and allowed to marinate for Page 72 a day or two, all of its flesh becomes an edible treat. The Wild Turkey's silly characteristics are of- ten inspired by its contact with humans. High- ly territorial, standing 4 feet tall and with su- perb daytime vision, a Wild Turkey marching into town will fearlessly attack parking me- ters and his reflection in shop windows or in a car's side mirror, causing people to panic, stampede out of his path and then write let- ters to editors of local newspapers and place calls to mayors and local police authorities. After all, he is taller than their children and attacks not only with his beak but with his 1 1/2 inch spurs, which he uses to repel other toms from his harem. According to Wikipedia, the Aztecs associat- ed the turkey with their mischievous god Tez- catlipoca "perhaps because of its perceived humorous behavior." The Aztecs must have experienced something similar to the follow- ing story. On Cape Cod, which has a comparatively large population of Wild Turkeys roaming about, a tom began relentlessly pursuing a mail truck and throwing himself against the vehicle. The letter carrier was afraid to leave his truck, and residents stayed in their homes or cars when this rogue turkey was sighted. Speculation was that the turkey was living up to Ben Franklin's high opinion of him by at- tacking the Bald Eagle symbol on the truck. Even knowing the turkey's daily routine, au- thorities were unable to capture him, as he ran and flew faster than they. This wily turkey gained greater notoriety and prestige when Ethel Kennedy, phoning from Florida, told the Cape Cod Times, "It's our

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