Apparently this New World bird was confused with the African guinea fowl, which had come to Europe via the Turkish Empire. Both imports were called "turkey."
Thus, a bird so American that Benjamin Franklin wanted it proclaimed our national symbol took the name of a distant land.
Historical records indicate the wild turkey existed in large numbers throughout what is now the contiguous United States, Mexico, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Turkeys were found in an area covering all or parts of 39 states at the time of European settlement.
American Indians not only relied on the wild turkey for food, but also used parts of the turkey for ornamentation, tools, arrowheads and various religious ceremonies. The wild turkey was also the favorite bird of the pioneer hunters, supplying meat for their families.
When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621, they drew on a "great store of wild turkeys." the store was not destined to continue.
Overshooting, clearing of open woodland for settlements and industry, coupled with the loss of a staple food, the result of chestnut blight, drove the Meleagris gallopavo from much of its original northeastern range. As early as 1813, turkeys disappeared from some states and continued to be reduced into the early 1900s.
Habitat destruction alone paved the way for almost complete elimination of the wild turkey on much of its range - the last wild turkey in Connecticut was recorded in 1831, in Massachusetts in 1851.
By 1919, turkeys - even though very abundant during pre-colonial days - were declared by the state game warden to be absent from Maryland, with a few exceptions in the remote western section. In an effort to bring back the wild turkey the hunting season was closed.
Then came a program of importation and the release of pen-raised birds. The trap-and-transplant effort initiated in 1965 has proven most effective.
Today, Maryland has a population estimated to be well over 10,000 birds, with an estimated 2.75 million nationwide. Wild turkeys occur naturally or have been re-established in all of Maryland's 23 counties.
The management of the wild turkey in Maryland has been an overwhelming success. Management, for the most part, has been centered around two activities, stocking of the wild birds and controlled harvesting. With this, several of the state's reservoirs close to populated cities have been successfully stocked with the birds.
What then are the limitations to the future population gains of the wild turkey? Habitat loss is without question the most important factor. Not only is it the most important limiting factor to population gain, but also the factor over which wildlife managers have the least control.
With the continued grant effort of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the willing cooperation of many concerned citizens, the wild turkey will continue to flourish in its comeback. With this combined effort, future generations will be able to enjoy this magnificent native bird.
Paul Inskeep 211-806
Maryland Correctional Training Center
Can we have some numbers, please?
To the editor:
The end of the calendar year is the mid-point in the county's fiscal year. How did Washington County's reserves weather the financial storms in the last half of CY 2008?
What will be the face value of the county's total debt as of Dec. 31 2008, and how does that number compare with the face value of the county's total debt as of June 30, 2008?
Some may even wonder what will be the market value of the county's total debt and what will be the market value of the county's reserves on Dec. 31, 2008.
Others may wonder about property tax collections and possible changes to the property tax rate for FY 2010.