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BirdNote: Audubon's Wild Turkey

Air Date: Week of

John James Audubon’s illustration of a wild turkey, the first plate from his famous work The Birds of America (Drawing: John James Audubon)

The Turkey is the traditional entrée on Thanksgiving in the U.S, but before the US bred the huge-breasted birds we eat today, wild turkeys wandered the land. The wild turkey is the first image in John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” and in today’s week’s BirdNote, Michael Stein recalls Audubon’s writings on these iconic creatures.



CURWOOD: Cranberries may be an iconic food on the Thanksgiving table – but it’s the turkey that takes center-stage. And it was the native Wild Turkey that John James Audubon chose nearly 300 years ago as the very first image for his masterpiece, “The Birds of America.”As Michael Stein points out in today’s BirdNote, J.J. Audubon was not only a fine artist, but a humorous observer as well.

Audubon’s Wild Turkey

[Call of the Wild Turkey]

STEIN: In the early 1800s, John James Audubon wrote:
“The great size and beauty of the Wild Turkey, its value as a delicate and highly-prized article of food… render it one of the most interesting of the birds indigenous to the United States of America.”

[Call of the Wild Turkey]

He describes how Wild Turkeys, which walk more than they fly, cross a river.

“When they come upon a river, they betake themselves to the highest eminences, and there often remain a whole day, or sometimes two, as if for the purpose of consultation. During this time, the males are heard gobbling, calling, and making much ado, and are seen strutting about, as if to raise their courage to a pitch befitting the emergency. At length… the whole party mounts to the tops of the highest trees…[and] takes flight for the opposite shore. The old and fat birds easily get over, even should the river be a mile in breadth; but the younger and less robust frequently fall into the water, -- not to be drowned, however, as might be imagined. They bring their wings close to their body. stretch forward their neck, and… proceed rapidly towards the shore…”

[Loud splashing and sounds of a river followed by wild turkey calls]

I’m Michael Stein.
Adapted by Chris Peterson
Call of the provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2009/2016 Tune In to Nature.org Narrator: Michael Stein



Original story on the BirdNote website

More on wild turkeys from the Cornell Lab of Orthinology


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