Now that you have made many decisions about your Thanksgiving turkey, including do I brine it before roasting, do I deep fat fry it, do I stuff or not stuff and, finally, when all is said and done; which do I want light or dark meat? Let me tell you a thing or two about the bird you are going to demolish.

In the 1500s when the Spanish arrived in Latin America, they found the wild turkey to be a good eating bird. So they captured one and took it back to Europe. Prior to the American wild turkey’s arrival in Europe, Great Britain had captured and domesticated a bird that came from Africa, via the country of Turkey, which was a type of guinea fowl. The British called this guinea fowl a turkey-cock, no doubt because it came to Africa and then Britain by way of Turkey. When the wild turkey that the Spaniards introduced to Europe from the Americas arrived, the bird was simply called a turkey due to its similarity to the turkey-cock.

The British domesticated and bred the American wild turkey and when the Englishmen crossed the Atlantic and colonized New England, they brought these domestic turkeys with them. The Pilgrims started the tradition of serving a Thanksgiving turkey. History shows that four birds were part of their first harvest dinner. These, however, were wild turkeys they harvested from the Plymouth area. As the colonists and settlers increased they almost caused the demise of the wild turkey. Wild turkeys prefer woodlands and as the forests were cleared for farmland, the turkeys declined drastically by 1900. Conservation efforts reversed this trend and now wild turkeys can be found in 42 of the 50 states including Massachusetts, but not on Martha’s Vineyard!

What do you mean there are no wild turkeys on Martha’s Vineyard? There used to be. Gus Ben David introduced wild turkeys from Arkansas in the 1970s. These birds and their offspring were extirpated in the 1990s. So what are all those turkeys that are in the road as you are heading for the ferry? The answer: feral turkeys. Two farmers, one from Katama and the other from the West Tisbury/Tisbury line raised domestic turkeys and somehow along the way these birds “went wild,” met up and interbred. These are the turkeys we have on the Vineyard, feral turkeys not true wild turkeys.

A true wild turkey is a very wary bird. They would never have to be shooed off a porch or herded off South Road. They are more streamlined than their domestic cousins and sport brown-tipped, not white-tipped, tail feathers. Wild turkeys have incredibly powerful legs which they use to sprint up to speeds of 25 miles per hour. If they need to get out of harm’s way they can also fly at the rate of 50 miles per hour.

Enjoy your leftovers, which frequently are more fun than the main meal and remember that the Vineyard turkeys are not real wild turkeys, they are feral.

Bird Sightings:

Ken Magnuson’s sighting of a short-eared owl at the Edgartown Golf Club on Nov. 19 is my choice of the bird of the week.

Two other good birds that have not been verified are a summer tanager seen by Mary Jane Pease near Abel’s Hill in Chilmark last weekend, and a blue-winged warbler that visited Joan Jenkinson’s North Road, Chilmark feeder on Nov. 22.

Constance Alexander found an American tree sparrow at Cranberry Acres on Nov. 15.

Sue Silva had a winter wren visit her Indian Hill, West Tisbury yard last week.

Bob Woodruff, Mary Alice Smith and Bob Weaver joined forces and birded Nov. 22 and 23. Over those two days they tallied 55 species. The best bird was a late-staying snowy egret fishing off the Island at the head of the Lagoon in Tisbury seen on Nov. 23. Bob Weaver spotted a palm warbler at Owen Park the same day. Other birds of note included an American coot and pied billed grebe at the Oak Bluffs Pumping Station. An unusual sighting was a wood duck in the Lagoon proper. Wood ducks are fresh water ducks. Bob Woodruff lead the Vineyard Conservation Society’s Winter Walk at Gay Head and commented that there were way fewer common eiders than he has seen in past winters.

Jeff Bernier photographed an American coot on the Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary Pond on Nov. 22.

On Nov. 23 Ken Magnuson arrived early at Katama where he was to meet Lanny McDowell for a trip out on Norton Point. Ken found a pothole loaded with waterfowl including two blue-winged teal, 75 green-winged teal, four American wigeon and four northern pintails as well as several black ducks and mallards. Out at Norton Point Lanny McDowell and Ken found two lesser black-backed gulls amongst the herring and ring-billed gulls. On Nov. 21 Lanny photographed a second year laughing gull, which should have been south of here by now.

Flip Harrington and I counted eight eastern bluebirds at Quansoo on Nov. 23 and we still have a purple finch visiting our Quenames feeder.

Please report your bird sightings to
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is