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Louisiana Wild Turkey Thanksgiving: Information, Photos, Videos, Poems and Teaching Activities

Since the mid-1980s, Yvonne has maintained a registered NWF backyard wildlife habitat where a variety of birds, insects, and frogs abound.

Meleagris gallopavo Information and Learning Activities

Unlike their domestic cousin, the wild turkey is an intelligent and fascinating creature. The domestic turkey does not have the survival instincts nor the hardiness of the wild turkey.

This page contains information about the wild turkey, including its description and habits. You'll also find Thanksgiving songs, recipes, learning activities and crafts, as well as the story of how turkeys became a part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

Wild Turkey Origins

When our country was being formed, Benjamin Franklin suggested that this noble bird should be adopted as the national symbol, but the bald eagle won out.

Years before the first colonists arrived in America, the Native Americans hunted the wild birds, but never domesticated them. However, the Aztecs of Mexico did domesticate a sub-species of the American wild turkey.

In the early 1500's, Spanish conquistadors brought back some of these domesticated turkeys to Europe and by the mid-1500's these birds were being raised all over Europe. When the first settlers came to the new world in the 1600's, they brought some of the small, unattractive domesticated birds with them.

Wild Turkeys in Louisiana

Wild Turkey Tom on Zazzle

Wild Turkey Tom on Zazzle

Wild Turkeys in Louisiana have been on the decline for many years. The decline began when the timber industry began to deplete Louisiana's virgin forests at the turn of the 20th century. At that time thousands of acres of prime Wild Turkey habitat was clear cut and most of the under story burned to provide land for agricultural ventures.

Added to the habitat destruction was the fact that in the 19th century, turkeys had been hunted relentlessly and there were no bag limits. Baiting with grain was a common practice.

Through the early part of the 20th century some attempts were made to enact and enforce some game laws, but the decline continued through the 1950s. Today Wild Turkey populations have increased due to good habitat management practices and strict enforcement of hunting regulations.

Turkey or Eagle?

Benjamin Franklin said:

"I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a Bird of bad moral character; like those among Men who live by Sharping and Robbing, he is generally poor and often very lousy. The Turkey is a much more respectable Bird and withal a true original Native of North America."

Do you agree with old Benjamin? Which bird do you think should represent the good old USA and why?

Here's What Readers Said About the Wild Turkey Being Our Symbol

rio1: Ben Franklin was correct in evaluating the moral character of both birds. The Turkey would better represent what our country stands for.

Linda Jo Martin: Eagles soar; turkeys don't. But I'm a big fan of Benjamin Franklin so I'm going to side with him anyway.

Here's What Readers Said About the Bald Eagle Being Our Symbol

luvmyludwig lm: I'm gonna go with the eagle on this one, turkey tastes too good :P

Bambi Watson: We have both Wild Turkeys and Eagles in abundance here in Minnesota...and even though many Americans may well be the intellectual equivelent of Turkeys...I think the Majestic Predator Eagle represents the Powers that be of the United States better...lmao

Nancy Tate Hellams: I am glad that old Ben lost out and that we have the Bald Eagle

Scroll to Continue

Life of the Wild Turkey

Tom and hen wild turkeys

Tom and hen wild turkeys

Description and Characteristics

Wild Turkeys are large, attractive birds. The male turkeys (Toms or gobblers) can be 4 feet tall and can weight more than 20 pounds. The females (hens) are about the same size, but are a little lighter than the Toms. Wild Turkeys have beautiful iridescent feathers and the tail feathers are tipped with a band of deep chocolate brown. The Toms fan their tails in a beautiful display during mating season. The legs of Wild Turkeys are long and pink in color.

Tom turkeys can be distinguished from hens by:

1. the red and/or blue coloration on the head and upper neck and by the general lack of feathers on the head.

2. the tuft of feathers called a "beard", which hang from the mid-breast region.

3. the bony growth (spur) on the lower leg, just above the foot.

Hens usually have a thin covering of feathers on the back of the neck up onto the head. They show less coloration on the skin of the head and lack beards and spurs.

5 Wild Turkey Facts

Mixed flock

Mixed flock

Wild Turkey Habits and Habitats

Wild Turkeys need large stands of open mature mixed Pine and hardwood forest. Each season had slightly different requirements.

Available turkey range in winter must provide adequate food, protective cover and suitable roosting areas. Foods such as acorns, beechnuts and pine seeds as well as foods such as sedge nutlets, dogwood and poison-ivy drupes, honeysuckle and greenbriar berries.

The most important spring habitat requirements is adequate nesting cover consisting of forest openings and fairly dense ground and understory vegetation with a permanent source of water nearby.

In Summer and Fall, the hens and poults need forest openings or grasslands that provide many protein filled insects as well as tender vegetation and various seeds that the young turkeys need. Adequate cover from predators is also needed.

Gobbler Strutting & Displaying Video

Wild Turkeys Feeding


Wild Turkeys are making a comeback in certain areas throughout Louisiana. This flock was seen at the entrance to Tickfaw State Park in southeastern Louisiana. The park ranger told us that they moved through the park and the surrounding countryside unafraid, feeding and doing "turkey" things each day.



During most of the year Gobblers travel in small groups separate from the hens and poults. As the daylight hours increase (March in Louisiana), the Toms begin to gobble and duel. Toms also "strut" and "drum" as part of the breeding ritual. Peak breeding occurs in Aril in Louisiana.


Females establish nest sites in forest openings, but the actual nest is built at the base of a tree or under a shrub in dense cover. The nest is a shallow, unlined depression. In Louisiana peak nesting occurs in April through mid-May.

A clutch of 10-12 ivory colored eggs with dark splotches is laid over a period of about 2 weeks. Incubation doesn't begin until the last egg is laid so all of the young hatch at about the same time. The hen incubates the eggs for about 28 days.

Wild Turkey nests and young can fall prey to many predators including snakes, skunks, crows, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, dogs, etc. Nests may also be abandoned as a result of wildfires, agriculture practices, logging, mowing and other human disturbances.

Hens often cover their eggs with leaves when they leave the nest for a short time. Eggs should never be taken from a nest in an attempt to artificially incubate them.


The baby turkeys are called poults. Only about 50% survive the first 2 to 6 weeks. Predators take a high number of the young and adverse weather conditions, too.

By the time they are 2 weeks old they can fly short distances and are soon able to roost in trees. By 4 months of age it is difficult to tell the difference from the adults at a distance.

Hen Roosting With Poults

Hen and Poults


Wild Turkeys Gobbling

Thanksgiving Plymouth

Plymouth Landing

Plymouth Landing

Wild Turkeys and the First Thanksgiving

Several years after the first Thanksgiving, Governor William Bradford wrote the following in his "History Of Plymouth Plantation".

" They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."

So it is believed that the tradition of serving turkey at the Thanksgiving feast began in Plymouth with the Pilgrims.

Turkeys, Pilgrims and Indian Corn

Main Course Poll

We Gather Together Hymn

Listen to this beautiful, traditional Thanksgiving hymn to get in the mood for the holiday season.

First Thanksgiving Celebration

The First Thanksgiving Vintage Painting

The First Thanksgiving Vintage Painting


Turkey and Dumplings with Vegetables

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cups cubed cooked turkey

1 cup baby carrots, sliced in fourths

4 cups of chicken broth

2 teaspoons of Italian herb mix

1 teaspoon salt


1 1/2 cups All-purpose Flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons shortening or olive oil

3/4 cup milk

In a dutch oven or large saucepan, sauté onion and celery in olive oil until tender. Add turkey, broth, carrots, herbs, and salt. Cover and simmer about 25 minutes.

Make dumplings by mixing dry ingredients into a bowl, then cutting in shortening. (Or if using olive oil), mix olive oil with milk and stir mixture into the dry ingredients. Then drop by spoonfulls into the boiling stew on top of the solid ingredients. Cook uncovered 10 minutes. Cover; cook about 10 minutes longer or until dumplings are fluffy.

Turkey and Thanksgiving Poetry

The Pinecone Turkey

Once a little pinecone turkey,

With feathers stiff and hard,

Wished that he could gobble loudly

Like turkeys in the yard.

They gobbled high, they gobbled low,

They gobbled with a trill;

And the little pinecone turkey

Could only keep quite still.

But when he stood on the table

On last Thanksgiving Day,

And saw a gib brown turkey there

His heart was light and gay.

His heart sang high, his heart sang low,

His heart sang with a trill;

And the little pinecone turkey

Was glad he'd kept quite still!

Mabel Maurine Henderson

The Turkey's Opinion

"What dost thou think of drumsticks?"

I asked a barnyard bird.

He grinned a turkey grin, and then

He answered me this word:

"They're good to eat, they're good to beat;

But sure as I am living,

They're best to run away with

The week before Thanksgiving."

Anna M. Pratt

The First Thanksgiving

Venison for stew and roasting,

oysters in the ashes toasting,

geese done to a turn,

berries (dried) and wild grapes (seeded)

mixed with dough and gently kneaded--

what a feast to earn!

Indian corn in strange disguises,

ash cakes, hoe cakes (many sizes),

kernels roasted brown ...

after months of frugal living

what a welcome first Thanksgiving

there in Plymouth town!

Aileen Fisher


Turkey Arts and Crafts

Fingerprint Turkeys

Gather stamp pads of many different colors. On a piece of construction paper, make a circular design using thumb or finger to make prints of one color. This will form the turkey's body. Use different colors in a rainbow shape above the body to form the tail feathers of the turkey. With a black fine tipped marker, draw the eye, beak, feet, wings and some of the details of the feathers.

Have the children copy the poem below and paste it below their turkey.

All turkey birds are different,

From sea to shining sea.

And you'll never see another bird

Like this one to you from me.

Can you see what makes him different?

Do you need some helpful hints?

I made him from my very own

Thumb and fingerprints!

Marsha A. Burks

Wild Turkey Feeding

Eastern Wild Turkey

Eastern Wild Turkey

Turkey Language Arts

Book: Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw, Wild Turkeys. Lerner, 1999.

The book, Wild Turkeys, is a mini unit onto itself and can be used effectively in a home schooling or small group setting. On page 5 you will find a map showing the distribution of the Wild Turkey and the "Be a word detective" activity which asks the child:

"Can you find these words as you read about the wild turkey's life? Be a detective and try to figure out what they mean. You can turn to the glossary on page 46 for help."















Cut and Tell Stories for Fall

Little Turkey Pattern

Little Turkey Pattern for Cut and Tell Story

Little Turkey Pattern for Cut and Tell Story

Drama, Music and Crafts

This activity was taken from Cut and Tell Scissor Stories for Fall by Jean Warren.

Little Turkey Cut & Tell Story

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

Little turkey sat in the barn all day

Wishing that he could go out and play.

But not till he was bigger -- till he was full grown

Could little turkey play in the yeard all alone.

Little turkey wished and what do you know

Little turkey wished and started to grow.

Out puffed his tummy to a great big size (7)

Out from his tail -- a big surprise! (8)

Now little turkey was all full grown

Now little turkey could go out alone.

Cutting Directions

1. Fold a paper plate in half.

2. Cut along cutting lines. Use hole to make eyes or draw them on.

3. Fold back middle flaps and head.

4. Roll larger flaps towards the middle. Hold in place with your fingers.

5. Fold back head and small flaps.

6. Lay turkey down, push head back. Cut-out should resemble a small turkey.

7. Open turkey back out flat. Fold flaps backwards around behing the turkey. Hook back of turkey together with slits. Fold wings down.

8. Stick the remaining section from the plate down behind the turkey's head, hooking it down in the side wing slits. Woila! Spread tail feathers!

Little Turkey Pattern

Skip to My Lou


Sing to the tune of "Skip to My Lou"

Ha Ha Turkey in the Straw

Turkey in the brown straw, ha ha ha

Turkey in the brown straw, ha ha ha

Turkey in the brown straw, ha ha ha

Skip to My Lou My Darling.

Ha Ha, Turkey in the straw

Ha Ha, Turkey in the straw

Ha Ha, Turkey in the straw

Turkey in the straw, My Darling.

Continue singing with such verses as:

Turkey in the white snow, ho ho ho


Turkey in the blue sky, hi hi hi


Turkey in the yellow corn, horn, horn horn

Let the children come up with some other rhyming verses.

Turkey in the Straw

More Turkey Music.

© 2009 Yvonne L B

Please don't trot off without leaving a comment.

Stephen Bush from Ohio on November 20, 2012:

This is certainly a definitive Thanksgiving lens! SquidAngel Blessings.

jlshernandez on November 13, 2011:

Just to let you know that this is featured in

anonymous on November 23, 2010:

Congratulations for being included on the Best of Lists, 75 Lenses You Shouldn't Miss This Thanksgiving by SquidTeam, and Happy Thanksgiving! - Kathy

elizajane202 lm on November 09, 2010:

What a wonderful lens and full of information. I love it! Now my son (he's 13) is actually allergic to turkey. Can you believe it? He hasn't had it since he was 3 but is begging us try one last time. We are considering it but will stock up on benedryl and have 9-1-1 on our phone ready. I will be sharing the craft ideas with my three younger kids, thank you and it has been a blessing reading your page.

luvmyludwig lm on September 30, 2009:

this lens is beautiful!

anonymous on September 30, 2009:

Great turkey lens with loads of info! Once in a while we will spot a wild turkey around my area as we are driving along. It's fun to catch a glimpse of one!

Mary from Chicago area on September 29, 2009:

Wow, there's a lot of great info here, and plenty of fun mixed in. Enjoyed the turkey rhymes. Had forgotten that about Ben Franklin!

SherryHolderHunt on September 29, 2009:

We have wild turkeys in our neighborhood, they are fun to watch! 5*s

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on September 29, 2009:

Very informative and fun!

Holley Web on September 28, 2009:

I had fun here! It was very informational I loved the videos!

Bambi Watson on August 31, 2009:

Interesting lens!

Jennifer Sullivan from Chicago, IL on August 30, 2009:

Great lens, very educational - I hope some kids can use this for a resource this fall for their thanksgiving projects!

Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on August 29, 2009:

A very informative and festive lens with more information about turkeys than I ever expected.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on August 29, 2009:

Oh me! This is amazing. I think you covered everything to do with a Wild Turkey. We enjoy watching them in our yard a couple of times a year but I have never seen their eggs. Very interesting. I love all the Thanksgiving crafts, too. Lensrolling to my Thanksgiving Prayer lens.

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