Nature Notes – Wild turkeys likely not native to Minnesota

By Jim Gilbert

The home range of the wild turkey is the eastern, southern, and southwestern United States, and down into Mexico. There is no positive evidence that this species had ever existed in Minnesota before European settlement, but they were introduced into the southern part of the state as far back as 1936.
Now, after a series of introductions during the 1960s and ‘70s, they are seen year-round in open woodlands, along forest edges, and in wooded swamps scattered across the southern half of the state.
Although they feed on the ground, wild turkeys roost in trees at night. Seeing these large birds, which stand three to four feet tall and usually weigh from 8 to 18 pounds, spring off the ground and fly nearly straight up into a tall tree is quite a sight. I have watched wild turkeys head up to their tree roosts in the Waconia area on several occasions.
They are brown and bronze, each with a striking blue and red featherless head. We see them at feeding stations where they eat cracked corn and other seeds on the ground along with the much smaller dark-eyed juncos, northern cardinals, blue jays, and mourning doves.
The domestic turkey is a subspecies that had been tamed, and was taken from Mexico to Europe by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. There was confusion from the start regarding the origin of this great bird. It was initially thought that it had originated in the country of Turkey. Hence, the name we use today. History tells us that English settlers brought the domestic turkey back to North America.
Wild turkeys prefer acorns but will eat any kind of seed, plus fruits, insects, frogs, and other small animals. They spend the winter in same-sex or mixed-sex flocks. At any time of year wild turkeys may gobble but it is in the spring that each tom reigns over his own small clearing, gobbling in earnest with tail fanned.
In 1782, the wild turkey lost by a single vote to the bald eagle to become our national bird and national symbol.

What’s happening outdoors now?
We are deep into November, the month of clouds, and with that comes some of the most colorful sunrises and sunsets. Avid gardeners cover rows of carrots with straw so fresh carrots can be dug when they are needed throughout winter.
Still a few skunks and raccoons are out and about; soon they will be sleeping in sheltered places and we won’t see them out until well into January or early February.
On the first calm, freezing day or night after a particular pond or lake reaches 39 degrees F in all parts, an ice cover will form. This year Hilks Lake, located on the northwest side of Waconia, froze over on Nov. 12 (last year Nov. 24).

On Nov. 21 a year ago
We enjoyed Indian Summer with a high temperature of 62 degrees (the normal high for this date is 38 degrees), light winds from the south, and enough high clouds to provide both a beautiful sunrise and sunset.
Sod was still being put down for new lawns. A fishing boat was out on Lake Waconia.
People in the whole Twin Cities area were also golfing, sailing and biking. Gossamers shimmered silver-white in the sunshine.

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