It’s no secret that I love birds – owls, hawks, pelicans, woodpeckers, titmice (or titmouses?), peafowl, chickens and even big ole goofy turkeys – I have a soft spot for ‘em all. I also have an affinity for useful knowledge and useless trivia, so here’s my contribution of both on behalf of Meleagris gallopavo, otherwise known as the turkey.
Did ya know?
- Our North American wild turkeys are the largest game bird in the world. They are omnivores, social, and quite intelligent.
- The turkey is actually a type of pheasant.
- Turkeys, both wild and domestic, are fluent in Turkey Talk. These birds produce at least 20 distinct vocalizations and communicate individually, as well as communally.
- A group of turkeys is correctly called a “rafter” or a “gang” – although “flock” is the more common slang term.
- There is a Kentucky bourbon named Wild Turkey – and you must be of legal drinking age to enter its website.
- Turkeys nearly went extinct in the 1930’s – due in part to over hunting as well as the rapid destruction of their woodland habitat.
- The first President on record issuing a “pardon” to his turkey was Ronald Reagan, who pardoned a turkey named Charlie and sent him to a petting zoo in 1987.
- A gang of turkeys can consist of toms, hens, poults, jakes and jennies.
- Turkeys show their emotions by the changing the coloration of their head and necks.
- Americans eat over 600 million pounds of turkey each Thanksgiving.
- “Gobbler” is a nickname for all turkeys, however, male turkeys are the only ones who actually gobble.
- You can tell the sex of a wild turkey by the shape of its droppings.
- The U.S. has 4 Turkey Towns : There’s a Turkey, Texas and North Carolina; and a Turkey Creek, Louisiana and Arizona.
- Sesame Street’s Big Bird is actually dressed in dyed turkey feathers – about 4000 of them! According to an interview with the New York Times, the costume weighs approximately 15 pounds.
- Ben Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be our National Symbol– he said that they were respectable birds and “though a little vain & 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.”
- A wattle is the fleshy part that hangs down under a turkey’s chin, the snood (or dewbill) dangles across the top of his beak.
- Tom turkeys have beards that hang up to 10 inches below their chest – these are actually modified feathers that are course like horse hair.
- Male turkeys take themselves very seriously when trying to impress a mate. With head held high, he fluffs his feathers up, raises his tail in an impressive fan-like display and struts proudly around gobbling about how fantastic he looks.
- Contrary to popular folklore, turkeys are quite intelligent. And no, they most assuredly do not hold their faces up and drown when it rains.
- Some Native American cultures considered turkeys the symbol for friendship and providence.
- Turkeys have 18 large quill feathers in their tail. Before ink pens were invented, these were once the most popular tool used for writing.
- The average life span of a domestic turkey, from birth to freezer, is 26 weeks. The average life span of a wild turkey is up to five years.
- Domesticated turkeys are too heavy to fly. Wild turkeys, however, can fly up to speeds up to 55 miles per hour. They can also reach speeds of 25 miles per hour on the ground.
- Turkeys bred commercially for Thanksgiving are prone to health problems associated with obesity such as heart disease, respiratory failure and joint damage.
- The Wild Turkey and the Muscovy Duck are the only two domesticated birds native to the New World.
- Turkey fossils have been unearthed across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago.
If you’d like to discover more about the intriguing life of wild turkeys, I highly recommend watching this fantastic documentary from PBS – “My life as a turkey” – based on the novel Illumination in the Flatwoods by Joe Hutto.
I have no doubt that you will enjoy “one man’s remarkable experience of raising a group of wild turkey hatchlings to adulthood”. You can view a short clip from the movie at the top of this page, and enjoy the full episode HERE.
Now for the more sobering turkey trivia:
Turkeys, along with other poultry, are not protected by the federal Humane Slaughter Act, and are frequently raised, handled and killed in very inhumane ways. You can avoid supporting inhumane practices by purchasing your Thanksgiving turkey from a local farmer who provides ethical management of the animals in his care.
You can also download the Certified Humane App HERE. Visit certifiedhumane.org for more information about purchasing humanely raised food animals, during Thanksgiving and throughout the year.
Other popular certifiers include:
Animal Welfare Approved
Food Alliance Certified
“Wild turkeys often seem to be profoundly motivated by wonder. It is impossible to ignore the extraordinary state of awareness in these wild birds. As I watch them contemplate and scrutinize, it is difficult to describe much of their nature or various behaviors without resorting to the word “consciousness.” – Joe Hutto
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