If you were to ask the average American what they would consider the Thanksgiving Day Mascot, everyone would likely say the turkey. In fact, many people refer to Thanksgiving Day as “Turkey Day”. Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) can be found across North Carolina, and Candid Critters has observed this species 4,407 times on our camera traps (see map of turkey observations below). It is believed that wild turkeys were also plentiful in the past, with many Pilgrim and Native American documentations commenting on the numerous nature of native turkey populations. This may be one of the reasons why the species became such a prevalent food source for Americans and the staple Thanksgiving centerpiece of today.
Number of Turkey Observations on Camera Traps Across North Carolina
Of course, wildlife numbers don’t always stay the same throughout the year, and often fluctuate depending on the season. Some animals have difficulty surviving through the winter, leading to low spring populations. Contrastingly, right after a species’ breeding season is when you can see populations boom. During what season do you think turkey populations are the greatest? Do you think we see more or fewer turkeys around Turkey Day?
Interestingly, we observe turkeys most often on our cameras in the fall1, right around Thanksgiving (see graph below). This is likely a result of a large annual increase in turkey numbers that happens each summer from reproduction1. Turkeys breed in the spring, and hens hatch their poults early in the summer1. By the time fall hits, the population is greatly increased. This increase could also be a result of an abundance of food, such as berries and mast (tree seeds). During these months, turkeys spend a lot of time foraging, and move around a lot to get as much food as they can before the winter months hit.
Turkey numbers increasing in the fall means they are readily available for Thanksgiving meals. However, today, many people obtain their Thanksgiving birds from farmed sources sold at their local grocery. Others are now even turning towards a vegetarian or vegan diet, which allow consumers to lower their environmental impact by decreasing their carbon output, water use, and ecological footprints2. If you’d like to lower your own environmental impact, consider having a vegetarian or vegan holiday season! Bon Appetit has a thorough list of delicious meatless alternatives listed on their website here.
What do you usually eat on Thanksgiving? Would you ever consider going meatless? Let us know what you think!
- Christopher D. Kreh, Upland Game Bird Biologist, The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
- Rosi, A., Mena, P., Pellegrini, N., Turroni, S., Neviani, E., Ferrocino, I., … & Maddock, J. (2017). Environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet. Scientific reports, 7(1), 6105.