Being a wild turkey in the fall is a dangerous occupation. With the approach of Thanksgiving, many hunters would love to bag a special Osceola Turkey for their family feast. Among other things, the difficulty of negotiating dangerous swampland, cranky insects and thick underbrush make the hunt a delicious challenge for dedicated sportsmen. What makes these birds so enticing?
Identifying the Osceola Turkey
Osceolas exist only on the peninsula of the Sunshine State and nowhere else on the planet. The Florida panhandle hosts the Eastern turkey. Of the five subspecies of turkeys in North America, Osceolas weigh in at a bit less than the Eastern turkeys with males ranging from 18 to 30 pounds and the hens from 8 to 12 pounds. Darker in color, the feathers of the toms display a broken band of white on the wings, rather than the more common continuous band, and chestnut brown tips on the tail feathers. The males also sport the longest beards of all the turkey species.
As unique as the Osceola (also known as the Florida Turkey) is, it has shared a similar history with the rest of its North American cousins.
Decline of Wild Turkey Populations
As with most other North American wildlife, prior to the arrival of Europeans, turkeys enjoyed vast numbers and plenty of their favorite wooded habitats. Then, land underwent clearing, and the growing human population hunted the birds relentlessly. By the nineteenth century, most of the wild population had become seriously decimated, if not wiped out in the North Eastern part of the continent.
Florida, on the other hand, retained a fairly healthy population during this time. Because the state remained less settled and because of its difficult landscape, turkeys continued to flourish here. Sadly, as development accelerated in the twentieth century, too much time passed before conservation authorities imposed hunting limits. The Osceolas began to rapidly decline here, too. Fortunately, though, conservation efforts did come into play before they became an endangered species.
Helping to restore numbers, Osceolas are abundantly fertile. Hens lay an average of 10.3 eggs per brood. Since the toms play no part in incubating or raising the young turkeys (poults), they remain free to continue mating. Today, surveys of Osceolas strongly suggest that most of Central Florida enjoy a 95 percent chance of harboring the precious birds.
Forever Florida — Protectors of the Osceola
At Forever Florida, we would rather fill our Thanksgiving plates with farmed turkeys and let the wild ones thrive in peace. As a nature preserve, it’s what we do. While we cannot control the movement of wild turkeys, we can prevent hunting on our ranch. Those birds that call Forever Florida their home have a safe haven here (other than from their usual animal predators). We only permit the shooting of our guest Osceolas with cameras. Since the park contains plenty of tree stands and the open fields preferred by brooding turkeys, the odds of spotting some here are quite good.
Visit the Natural Turkey Habitat on a Buggy Ride Adventure
You can get up close in the natural ecosystem of the wild Osceola turkey. Just book a ride on our Trail Buggy, a custom-made bus designed to afford you the best open views of our preserve. The guided tour comfortably takes you deep into the wilds of Central Florida where Osceolas are known to roost, brood and forage. By fall, the hens have raised their 10 or so poults to an age at which they can survive on their own. This means they have rejoined the toms to roost in the trees by November. So, you have a good chance of viewing any number of them on a Buggy tour.
While we have you on our Trail Buggy adventure, you’re likely to see much more than just the turkeys. We’ll also take you to the Allen Broussard Wildlife Conservation Area next door to Forever Florida. Here, you’ll see many more species of Florida wildlife and learn about the ongoing conservation efforts to maintain pristine environments for them. If you choose the Big Cat Tour, you’ll enjoy the foregoing adventure plus an exciting visit to the Central Florida Animal Reserve (CFAR) to see lions, tigers, cougars and leopards face to face.
While you’re celebrating the holiday, give thanks that Forever Florida’s Osceola turkeys won’t be on the menu.