With the fragrance of Thanksgiving dinner soon to fill the autumn air, it’s a good time to ask what makes the season’s favored bird such a popular namesake for Ohio’s waterways, roads and land formations in the state? That’s not so hard to understand if you look at the question from an early Ohioan’s point of view or rather, if you hear it as they did. So abundant were wild turkeys
in those days that settlers were likely to hear gobbling in nearly every neck of the woods.
Given that prompting, it’s no wonder they chose gobbler-inspired names for early Buckeye State maps. So there’s Turkey Foot Corner in Ashtabula County, Turkey Creek Lake in Scioto County and Turkey Ridge Road in Ross County not to mention several Gobbler’s knobs, ridges and hills throughout the state. Additionally, more than 30 waterways in Ohio were christened “turkeys,” including Turkey Hole Run in Brown County and Turkey Broth Creek in Mahoning County.
And these names stuck, even after the early 1900s when wild turkeys disappeared from the Ohio landscape. Fortunately, wild turkeys are once again strutting their stuff statewide, giving renewed meaning to these pioneer names.
Some gobbler and hen history
Well before the Mayflower drew ashore at Plymouth Rock, Native Americans hunted this flavorful game bird for food. Wasting nothing, they used the birds’ feathers and bones for decoration, tools and ceremonial purposes. They held the wild turkey in such esteem that its image was etched into pottery and made into carvings.
Benjamin Franklin, one of our country’s Founding Fathers, suggested that the wild turkey be adopted as the national symbol for the newly formed United States of America. The proposal obviously did not electrify his compatriots, for today it’s the bald eagle that proudly represents our nation.
Yet, as the Buckeye State was cleared for towns and agricultural purposes, wild turkeys and other wildlife including elk, white-tailed deer, black bears and even timber wolves lost their woodland habitats. By 1904, nary a wild turkey could be heard gobbling in Ohio.
Then in 1956, wildlife biologists with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) began reintroducing wild turkeys to the state. Their efforts included trapping wild turkeys outside of Ohio then releasing them into the state’s forested lands. Woodlands in Athens, Hocking and Vinton counties were the first to receive the out-of-state birds. Over time, as Ohio’s flocks developed their own steady populations, wildlife managers trapped and transplanted “home-grown” wild turkeys to other parts of the state.
Today nearly 385 years after the pilgrim’s held their first Thanksgiving wild turkeys can be heard and hunted in all 88 Ohio counties. In fact, prior to the fall hunting season, ODNR estimated the state’s wild turkey population at 180,000.
Unlike the white plumage of their domesticated counterparts, the feathers of wild turkeys are an iridescent bronze with hints of red, green, copper and gold. They have a slim build, long neck and nearly featherless heads. Copper-colored tail feathers are offset by a distinctive black band at the tip. Adult males, or “toms,” have a reddish head, while females known as “hens” feature a bluish head. In addition to gobbling, turkeys are known to have 28 different calls, which include: clucks, purrs, trills, croaks, whines, barks, and an alarm call known as a “putt.”
Although abundant, wild turkeys are elusive, and chances are you’ll hear one before seeing it. To increase your odds, consider a trip to one of these designated “Watchable Wildlife” areas: Waterloo State Wildlife Area in Athens County, Woodbury State Wildlife Area in Coshocton County, Salt Fork State Wildlife Area in Guernsey County, and Cooper Hollow State Wildlife Area in Jackson County. Other excellent sites include: Hocking State Forest in Hocking County, Shawnee State Forest in Scioto County, and Paint Creek State Park in Highland County.
Now, if anyone ever gives you directions that sound something like this: Trot over to Turkey Ridge, head up to Gobbler’s Knob, turn left just before Turkeyfoot Creek and look for Turkeyhen Lane, you’ll understand the history behind so much turkey talk!