Learning about Turkeys and Celebrating Our Members

by Sue Ann Kendall

For those of you who are not (yet) members of a Master Naturalist chapter, I just want to share how much you can learn and how amazing the people you meet can be. Last night was a great example. Our Chapter Meeting speaker was a young PhD candidate named Amanda Beckmann. She studies Rio Grande wild turkeys at Texas A&M. El Camino Real Chapter member and turkey enthusiast Cindy Rek introduced her and shared how she met Amanda thanks to her Master Naturalist connections. Here are my notes from the presentation.

Amanda shows us where her turkey feather samples came from.

Wild turkeys live here in the US and northern Mexico, while Ocellated turkeys live further south in Mexico and in Central America (they look like a mix between a turkey and a peacock). There are five subspecies of wild turkeys. Turkeys were domesticated in North America two separate times, and soon they were being moved outside their natural range.

In the 1920s turkeys were eliminated in most of their natural range and attempts to reintroduce them in the 1940s didn’t work. There was more success using translocation and introductions starting in the 1950s to today. Around 5 million in 2014.

There are now Rio Grande turkeys in the Western US and Hawaii. All kinds of turkeys are moving around, and hybrids are happening. Hunting all five subspecies of turkey is called a Grand Slam. Amanda’s research is to help map the subspecies using genetic data collected by hunters. She is interested in what we can learn about Rio Grande turkeys as opposed to the Eastern.

Notice that she has a cool turkey shirt on!

Baby turkeys are poults. They eat insects (older turkeys eat mostly vegetation). The breeding system of males involves gathering in large numbers called a lek. The Easterns don’t have as much of a lek, due to fewer open areas to group in.

Amanda’s research has looked into the effect of domestication and feral environments versus urban and wild turkeys, in different populations.

She also shared with us this resource for further reading: Illumination in the Flatwoods, which is a book and PBS documentary on poult behavior. The link is to Amazon.com.

After the speaker, we held our usual meeting. I was struck by how much work goes into each meeting (I’m glad I was there to help our substitute sound man and A/V guy in his first solo outing!). The decorations our hospitality team sets out are always so pretty (this week was a beach theme). And it always impresses me how much hard work our members do to get their annual recertification pins! Plus, our hard-working record-keeper, Lisa Milewski manages to keep track of our hours, order pins, and make sure we have a clue as to what we are doing with our volunteer time. She’s always so cheerful, as is our President, Carolyn Henderson, which you can see in the photo. She can herd cats with the best of them!

While I’m gushing, I want to say that there were many kind things said about Donna Lewis, whose blog posts you all enjoy right here. She made the 10,000 volunteer hour milestone recently. That’s an incredible amount of finding monthly speakers, taking care of birds, speaking at events, writing blog posts, and much, much more. It’s great to have her as a friend and mentor in our chapter. We will get a photo of her NEXT month, I hope!

Members and visitors enjoy our meeting. We are lucky to have them all.

We had visitors at our meeting, too. You are welcome to come any time you’re in Cameron on the second Thursday of the month. We’re at the Episcopal Church meeting room with potluck starting at 5:30 and the speaker at 6. Come join us!

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