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OF THE TURKEY TRIBE IN GENERAL.
Belonging to the present tribe, two species only have hitherto been discovered ; one in America, and the other in the more retired parts of India. In each of them the bill is convex, short, and strong. The head and neck, or throat, and in some of the species all three, are covered with naked carunculated or warty flesh, the skin of which is flaccid and membranaceous. The tail is broad, and the birds have the power of expanding it.
THE AMERICAN OR COMMON TURKEY T. The hunting of these birds forms one of the principal diversions of the natives of Canada. When they have discovered the retreat of a flock of Turkeys, which in general is near fields of nettles, or where there is plenty of any kind of grain, they send a well-trained dog into the midst of the flock. The birds no sooner perceive their enemy, then they run off at full speed, and with such swiftness, that they leave the dog far behind. He, however, follows; and at last forces them
* In the birds of this order the bill is convex, the upper mandible lying in an arch over the lower one; and the nostrils are arched over with a cartilaginous membrane. The feet are formed för running, without a back toe; and the toes are rough underneath.
+ SYNONYMS. Meleagris Gallo-pavo. Linnæus.—Dindon. Buffon.— New England Wild Turkey. Ray.-Bew. Birds, p. 286.
to take shelter in a tree ; where they sit, spent and fatigued, till the hunters come up, and with long poles knock them down one after another.
Turkeys were first introduced from North America into England in the reign of Henry the Eighth. According to Tusser's “ Five Hundred Pointes of good Husbandrie,” they began about the year 1585 to form an article in our rural Christmas feasts :
Beefe, mutton, and pork, shred pies of the best,
These birds, among themselves, are extremely furious; and yet against other animals they are generally weak and cowardly. The domestic cock often makes them keep at a distance; and they seldom venture to attack him but with united force, when the cock is rather oppressed by their weight, than annoyed by their weapons. There have, however, occurred instances in which the Turkey-cock has not been found wanting in prowess:-A gentleman of New York received from a distance a Turkey-cock and hen, and a pair of bantams, which he put into his yard with other poultry. Some time afterwards, as he was feeding them from the barndoor, a large hawk suddenly turned the corner of the barn, and made a pitch at the Bantam-hen. She immediately gave the alarm, by a noise which is natural to poultry on such occasions. On hearing this, the Turkey-cock, which was at a little distance, and no doubt understood the hawk's intentions, and the imminent danger of his old acquaintance, flew at the tyrant with such violence, and gave him so severe a stroke with his spurs when about to seize his prey, as to knock him from the hen to a considerable distance ; and the timely aid of this faithful auxiliary saved the bantam from being devoured.
To this I can add another instance (though very dif
ferent in its nature) of the gallantry of the Turkeycock. In the month of May, 1798, a female Turkey, belonging to a gentleman in Sweden, was sitting upon eggs; and as the cock, in her absence, began to appear uneasy and dejected, he was put into the place with her. He immediately sat down by her side; and it was soon found that he had taken some eggs from under her, and had himself sat upon them. The eggs were put back, but he soon afterwards took them again. This induced the owner, by way of experiment, to have a nest made, and as many eggs put into it as it was thought the cock could conveniently cover. The bird seemed highly pleased with this mark of confidence ; he sat with great patience on the eggs, and was so attentive to the care of hatching them, as scarcely to afford himself time to take the food necessary for his support. At the usual period, twenty-eight young ones were produced : and the cock, which was in some measure the parent of this numerous offspring, appeared perplexed on seeing so many little creatures picking around him, and requiring his care. He was not, however, trusted with the rearing of the brood, lest he should neglect them; and they were reared by other
The disposition of the female Turkey is in general much more mild and gentle than that of the male. When leading out her young family to collect their food, though so large and apparently so powerful a bird, she gives them very little protection against the attacks of any rapacious animal that comes in her way. She rather warns them to shift for themselves, than prepares to defend them. “I have heard a Turkey-ben, when at the head of her brood, (says the Abbé de la Pluche,) send forth the most piteous scream, without my being able to perceive the cause : her young-ones, however, immediately when the warning was given, skulked under the bushes, the grass, or whatever else seemed to offer shelter or protection. They even stretched themselves at full length on the ground, and
continued lying motionless as if dead. In the mean time the mother, with her eyes directed upwards, continued her cries and screaming as before. On looking up, in the direction in which she seemed to gaze, I discovered a black spot just under the clouds, but was unable at first to determine what it was ; however, it soon appeared to be a bird of prey, though at first at too great a distance to be distinguished. I have seen one of these animals continue in this agitated state, and her whole brood pinned down as it were to the ground, for four hours together; whilst their formidable foe has taken his circuits, has mounted, and hovered directly over their heads: at last, upon his disappearing, the parent changed her note, and sent forth another cry, which in an instant gave life to the whole trembling tribe, and they all flocked round her with expressions of pleasure, as if conscious of their happy escape from danger."
It appears that in the wilds of America the Turkey grows to a much larger size than with us. Josselyn says, that he has eaten part of a Turkey-cock which, after it was plucked and the entrails were taken out, weighed thirty pounds. Lawson, whose authority is unquestionable, saw half a Turkey serve eight hungry men for two meals, and says that he had seen others which he believed would each weigh forty pounds. Some writers assert that instances have occurred of Turkeys weighing sixty pounds.
The females lay their eggs in spring, generally in some retired and obscure place; for the cock, enraged at the loss of his mate while she is employed in hatching, is apt otherwise to break them. They sit on their eggs with so much perseverance, that, if not taken away, they will sometimes perish with hunger rather than leave the nest. They are exceedingly affectionate to their offspring.
Turkeys are bred in great numbers in Norfolk, Suffolk, and some other counties, whence they are driven to the London markets in flocks of several hundreds.