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Turkey Facts

Everything you need to know about turkeys

Anatomy of a Turkey 

How the Turkey Got Its Name

There are a number of explanations for the origin of the name of Thanksgiving's favorite dinner guest. Some believe Christopher Columbus thought that the land he discovered was connected to India, and believed the bird he discovered (the turkey) was a type of peacock. He therefore called it 'tuka,' which is 'peacock' in Tamil, an Indian language.

Though the turkey is actually a type of pheasant, one can't blame the explorer for trying.

The Native American name for turkey is 'firkee'; some say this is how turkeys got their name. Simple facts, however, sometimes produce the best answers—when a turkey is scared, it makes a "turk, turk, turk" noise.


Thrilling Turkey Facts

An overwhelming majority of turkeys polled feel that Thanksgiving is not actually Turkey Day. In fact, it seems a lot more like Anti-Turkey Day. Yes, the Wild Turkey is North America’s largest game bird. However, Meleagris gallopavo has a lot more going for it than tasty, tryptophan-laced flesh:

  • Turkeys are social birds and in winter often separate into three distinct groups: adult males (toms), young males (jakes), and females (hens) of all ages.
  • Wild turkey populations dwindled to fewer than 30,000 birds by the 1930s due to habitat destruction and unregulated shooting. Today, there are roughly 6.4 million wild turkeys. They can be found in every state except Alaska.
  • Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour. They can run as fast as 20 miles per hour. Commercially raised turkeys cannot fly.
  • Turkeys’ heads change colors when they become excited.
  • Male turkeys are sometimes called gobblers, which makes sense because they gobble. Hens don’t gobble. They make a clicking noise.
  • During the spring, a male wild turkey’s physical appearance changes: his head turns a brilliant red, white and blue color. He can often be seen puffed up, tail feathers fanned out and his wings dragging on the ground. This display is called strutting and the purpose of this display is to attract hens for breeding
  • The fleshy growth under a turkey’s throat is called a wattle. Turkeys also have a long, red, fleshy area that grows from the forehead over the bill called a snood.
  • Turkeys can have heart attacks. During U.S. Air Force test runs in breaking the sound barrier, nearby turkeys dropped dead from sudden cardiac arrest.
  • The ballroom dance the “Turkey Trot” was named for the short, jerky steps that turkeys take.
  • Turkeys can see in color but have poor night vision.
  • Benjamin Franklin disapproved of the selection of the Bald Eagle as our national bird, calling it “a Bird of bad moral Character.” He much preferred the Wild Turkey, saying, “For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Ruby Begonia on a training day. 
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