Thought you knew all there is to know about the odd birds at your table this week?
Think again. The group is even wilder than you thought.
Amuse your guests with some offbeat turkey facts. Then walk off the meal at a national wildlife refuge where you may you spy wild turkeys strutting and fanning their feathers like those in this video, filmed at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa and Nebraska. Who knows? You might emerge looking less like a butterball yourself. (Just joking.)
Read on and you’ll learn some oddball turkey trivia and favorite wild turkey hideouts.
TURKEY FACT #2: Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.
TURKEY FACT #3: Feathers galore: An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers — count them!.
TURKEY FACT #4: Tom turkeys aren’t the only ones that swagger and fan their tail feathers to woo mates and ward off rivals. Some hens strut, too.
TURKEY FACT #5: Young turkeys — called poults — scarf down insects like candy. Poults develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.
TURKEY FACT #6: They may look off-kilter — tilting their heads and staring at the sky — yet they’re fast. Turkeys can clock more than 12 miles per hour.
TURKEY FACT #7: Move over, American bald eagle. Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol.
In the early 1900s, wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction, with only about 200,000 left. Through conservation efforts over the past century, with funds derived from the Pittman-Robertson Act, and thanks to sportsmen and women, there are approximately 6.5 million wild birds in the United States today, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.
St Marks National Wildlife Refuge
To boost your chances of seeing turkeys, lower your car speed to a crawl — “Turkeys are sensitive to the movement of vehicles,” says ranger David Moody — or get out and walk, slowly. The refuge is closed to hunting until December 10. Turkeys like the open terrain of the longleaf pine sandhill ecosystem along the Florida National Scenic Trail, almost 50 miles of which go through the refuge. $5 entrance fee.
Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
Look for turkeys along 50 miles of gravel roads, including 6-mile-long Wildlife Drive. You might also see turkeys off Round Oak Juliette Road, a scenic paved byway. Or try one of the refuge’s five hiking trails. No entrance fee.
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
The 1.7- mile Wild Turkey Trail leads through woods and offers a fine chance of seeing … you-know-whats. For more of a challenge, take the connecting 2.2-mile Rocky Bluff Trail. Entrance fee: $2 per vehicle.
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Several short foot trails give you a chance to glimpse wild turkeys. You might also spy some along Wildlife Drive. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle.
More turkey-rich refuges:
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
From the visitor center, the half-mile Hillside Trail connects to the Long Meadow Lake Trail. Follow it around the floodplain wetland, keeping your eyes out for wild turkeys. No entrance fee.
Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge has a “healthy population” of the skittish wild birds, says deputy manager Greg Dehmer. Look for them along 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive, two refuge hiking trails, and in prairie fields beside county roads that run through the refuge. No entrance fee.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys hang out here. The North and South Auto Tour Loops are good places to spot some. Other good spots: along the Rio Viejo Trail, the John Taylor Memorial Trail or the bike trail on the east side service road of the Low Flow Conveyance Channel. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
Feeder Road takes you on a scenic 3.5-mile drive into the refuge, passing fields and grasslands that are favorite turkey hangouts. The road is open to cars now through February, and to hikers and cyclists year-round. Three other hiking trails are also available. No entrance fee.
Still more turkey-rich refuges:
Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
Nine-mile Wildlife Drive passes woods and fields where you might spot turkeys, especially in mornings and late afternoons. Or walk any of five hiking trails along the drive. An observation tower in the Oxpen Unit offers exceptional birding and scenic views. No entrance fee.
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Look for wild turkeys crossing Refuge Road as you drive in the main entrance. Raasch Trail is also a good bet for seeing wild turkeys. No entrance fee.
Refuge trails are open sunrise to sunset daily, even on Thanksgiving Day when refuge visitor centers will be closed. Free trail maps are available outside the visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. Here’s more information on National Wildlife Refuge System trails.
Rio Grande wild turkeys, a Merriam’s subspecies, strut and feed in Wyoming. (Photo: Courtesy of the National Turkey Federation)