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A determined biologist mastered the art of wildlife photography to capture the color of America's first holiday bird

The wild gobbler shown at the right, haughty in prime plumage, is a creature of rare beauty, a symbol of holiday feasting from colonial times to the present. But he is also a most wary bird. To photograph him in his natural environment, as 34-year-old Wildlife Biologist Herman Lindsay Holbrook did here, requires skill and patience beyond even that of a hunter, who counts it a lucky day indeed when he can bag a bird. In 1950, when Holbrook took charge of the 17,000-acre Francis Marion Wild Turkey Project near McClellanville, South Carolina, he had never taken a picture with so much as a Brownie camera. Convinced, however, that naturalists needed more photographs of turkeys in the wild, he borrowed the money to buy a 35mm Exakta with a telephoto lens and set about recording the life and loves of the birds. It was a trying job. Holbrook had to spend as much as 10 hours a day with his 6-foot, 190-pound frame cramped in a tiny blind. The first time he attempted a picture the click of the shutter sent the turkeys booming away. To deaden shutter noise he then designed a special felt-lined camera box. Then he squeezed into the blind once more and spent more hours waiting for the turkeys to move within camera range. The result of Holbrook's patience and ingenuity is on these pages, some remarkable pictures of the most elusive and perhaps the handsomest of American game birds.

Feeding and fighting are two extremes of turkey life caught by Photographer Holbrook. Feeding quietly (above), three turkeys and a crow share a food patch. Below, the feeding ground becomes a battleground as two pairs of gobblers fight to see which will control the field during spring breeding.