Turkey talk: fun facts about Thanksgiving's Gorge-ous bird

Tom Turkey isn’t just a tasty entree. He’s also got his wild side! Find out what makes this bird so unique— and where he likes to live in the New River Gorge.

Feathered facts

  1. It’s tempting to think of turkeys as fat, sluggish birds. They fill up a platter during Thanksgiving, after all. But the wild turkey is pretty different from its domestic counterpart. They can run at speeds of 25 mph and fly in short bursts at 55 mph.
  2. If you think these birds were named after the country of Turkey, you’re right. Explorers long ago were struck by their similarity to fowls sold by Turkish merchants.
  3. Despite their odd appearance, turkeys aren’t dumb. As caretakers can attest, they have wide-ranging vocalizations. What’s more, turkeys express emotion by changing color; their heads can flush white, red or blue.
  4. Wild turkeys have approximately 6,000 feathers, many of which are iridescent. Colors can range from bronze to metallic emerald.
  5. Turkeys were almost hunted to extinction by the 1900s. Today, they’re a popular game bird. Approximately 7 million live in the American wilderness.
  6. Benjamin Franklin argued that the turkey made a better national symbol than the bald eagle. In his opinion, turkeys were bold and aggressive. Bald eagles, on the other hand, had “bad moral character” and were “too lazy.”

Bird watching

The New River Gorge makes an attractive habitat for turkeys. Diverse terrain appeals to these large birds, which need forests for shelter but grassy meadows for foraging. It’s also ideal for hikers! The wild scenery rewards you at every turn, regardless of season.
Ready to explore? Here’s where you might find Tom Turkey:
This majestic location boasts incredible overlooks of the New River. From your vantage point, you can look down upon cobalt water, patchwork forests and rumpled mountains. Trails take you deep into the heart of this beauty— right where turkeys like to live.
For an easy outing, try the forested Woodland Loop Trail or Big Buck Trail; both are slightly under a mile long. If you’re up for a challenge, Little Laurel Trail takes you from the mountaintop to the New River— a 1,400-foot elevation drop.
Sandstone-Brooks Area
Slightly wilder terrain is found near Hinton. One of the most arresting sights is Brooks Falls, a 1,500-foot-wide cascade. It’s always worth seeing, particularly from the boardwalk. But if you only have time for turkeys, hop aboard Big Branch Trail. It’s a 2-mile-long loop with lovely forests, mossy boulders, and cascades.
Gwinn Ridge Trail is another possibility. Wild and rumpled, the 3-mile-long path traces through romantic scenery. It’s somewhat demanding but worth the effort.
Happy Thanksgiving! With these fun facts, you’ll be ready for any party. And these trails are perfect before— and after— some pumpkin pie.