This week, turkey will be top of mind for many folks in New York City, but in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo, they’re “talkin’ turkey” every day.
One of the popular animals in the zoo’s barn area is a large North American wild turkey. Named Franklin after one of America’s founding fathers, he can be seen strutting around the yard with two female turkeys.
The wild turkey is an American bird, originally brought to Europe in early 16th century by Spanish conquistadors. Trade routes in those days required ships to stop in Turkey before heading to England and for some reason, the bird became associated with the country name. Benjamin Franklin once commented that the wild turkey would better serve as an emblem of courage than the bald eagle. He characterized the eagle as a “coward” having observed these birds of prey snatching fish from fishing hawks.
Turkeys are sexually dimorphic — meaning males and females look different. Franklin is a particularly beautiful specimen and dramatically exhibits the characteristics of a male turkey. His feathers are a glossy mix of brown, bronze, gold, purple, green, and red iridescence; his bald head is a mix of blue, green, and white; his head features a wattle or a drape of skin that flops over his beak which turns bright red; and he has sprout of stiff “hair” on his chest called a beard.
During mating season, males advertise their availability to females with a variety of sounds including the well known “gobble.” Franklin doesn’t always wait until spring to puff his feathers and strut around the barnyard, so visitors often get a great show.
Urban children rarely get to see a turkey that’s not on the dinner table, so it’s definitely a treat to come to the Prospect Park Zoo and visit Franklin. Take the time to look closely at his feathers and unique coloration. When he’s fully puffed and strutting around the barnyard, you’ll have to agree — he’s about as beautiful as any peacock.
Visitors can see Franklin strutting in the barn area on Thanksgiving Day and every day of the year.