The turkey is the symbol of Thanksgiving. The turkey we know is a featherless, headless thing that comes wrapped in plastic. This is not it's normal condition. Nor or the gigantic white-feathered things we see in pictures normal. What is normal, or used to be normal, is the wild turkey. The wild turkey is now very rare and, when seen, does not live in its natural habitat for its natural habitat has been missing for well over a century.
This is probably the definitive description of the wild turkey. It's by John James Audubon and written in the early 1800s. This is my Thanksgiving offering.
THE WILD TURKEY.
The great size and beauty of the Wild Turkey, its value as a delicate and highly prized article of food, and the circumstance of its being the origin of the domestic race now generally dispersed over both continents, render it one of the most interesting of the birds indigenous to the United States of America.
The unsettled parts of the States of Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana, an immense extent of country to the north-west of these districts, upon the Mississippi and Missouri, and the vast regions drained by these rivers from their confluence to Louisiana, including the wooded parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama, are the most abundantly supplied with this magnificent bird. It is less plentiful in Georgia and the Carolinas, becomes still scarcer in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and is now very rarely seen to the eastward of the last mentioned States. In the course of my rambles through Long Island, the State of New York, and the country around the Lakes, I did not meet with a single individual, although I was informed that some exist, in those parts. Turkeys are still to be found along the whole line of the Alleghany Mountains, where they have become so wary as to be approached only with extreme difficulty. While, in the Great Pine Forest, in 1829, I found a single feather that had been dropped from the tail of a female, but saw no bird of the kind. Farther eastward, I do not think they are now to be found. I shall describe the manners of this bird as observed in the countries where it is most abundant and having resided for many years in Kentucky and Louisiana, may be understood as referring chiefly to them.
The Turkey is irregularly migratory, as well as irregularly gregarious. With reference to the first of these circumstances, I have to state, that whenever the mast* of one portion of the country happens greatly to exceed that of another, the Turkeys are insensibly led toward that spot, by gradually meeting in their haunts with more fruit the nearer they advance towards the place where it is most plentiful. In this manner flock follows after flock, until one district is entirely deserted, while another is, as it were, overflowed by them. But as these migrations are irregular, and extend over a vast expanse of country, it is necessary that I should describe the manner in which they take place.
[*In America the term mast is not confined to the fruit of the beech, but is used as a general name for all kinds of forest fruits, including even grapes and berries.]