Let’s Talk Turkey

tom turkeyThanksgiving is coming up, and as everyone knows we often refer to this day of giving thanks as “Turkey Day.” This year before “Turkey Day,” gather your students or children and talk about turkeys! Ask children if they have ever seen a turkey. Where was it? What did it look like? Talk about what turkeys look like and where they live and the difference between wild and domestic turkeys.

Here are some turkey-themed activities:

  1. Provide children with turkey feathers or other feathers to explore with a magnifier.
  2. Listen to wild turkey gobbles and clucks at All About Birds: Wild Turkeys.
  3. Download this PDF to Know Your Wild Turkey.
  4. Play “Follow the Turkey Leader.” Baby Turkeys, called chicks or poults, follow the adult turkeys to stay safe and to learn. Take turns having the kids be the adult turkey, the “leader,” and pretend to be a flock of turkeys looking for food in the woods. This is a great outside game but can be played in the classroom.
  5. To really get into the game, let the children make turkey hats for to wear!  Visit Family Fun: Turkey Hat for instructions.
  6. Make a turkey puppet!
  7. For snack time, make Candy Pretzel Turkey Bites, try turkey meat, compare light and dark meat, or eat like a turkey and make dried fruit and nut mix.

For more ideas and for snacks and crafts, use Growing Up WILD’s “Terrific Turkeys.”

More links for learning!

More about the wild turkey in Iowa:

Fall is the season for this noble animal, an historic bird and Benjamin Franklin’s pick for national bird. Turkeys have run wild through the United States for thousands of years. There’s even a fairly detailed fossil record of early turkey ancestors in states from Virginia to California.

The first settlers to cross the Mississippi River into what would become Iowa found wild turkeys in abundance. Settler’s journals tell us that turkeys were found where there was oak-hickory forest (one of the wild turkey’s favorite foods are acorns) and that turkey was a staple in their diet. Turkey populations depleted as did our forests.

The Eastern wild turkey was extirpated from northeast Iowa by 1854 and very low numbers remained in southern Iowa by 1900. Initial restocking efforts were attempted with pen-raised turkeys in the 1920s and 30s. These releases were assumed to have failed. In the early 1960s other subspecies of wild turkey were released in Allamakee, Lucas, and Monroe Counties with limited success.

In 1966, 11 Eastern wild turkeys were released at Shimek State Forest. These birds were wild-raised and caught in Missouri. The population of these birds took off! By the winter of 1971-72, wild turkey numbers in the state were large and stable enough to trap and relocate to other suitable habitats within the state. The Eastern subspecies has adapted well to habitat conditions in Iowa and by 1980, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was able to trap wild turkeys and use them to trade for other Iowa-extirpated wildlife like prairie chickens, ruffed and sharp-tailed grouse, and river otters.