Gobble, gobble! Is that the sound of a turkey? Turkey is the main course for Thanksgiving and the holiday season. A large bird that many believe can’t fly, but actually can fly short distances. Let’s learn some more about a bird that is a big part of the United States history.
Turkeys are incredible birds and very social animals. Turkeys are big birds. Male wild turkeys or toms weigh between 15 and 25 pounds and measure 48 inches long. Female turkeys or hens are smaller. They weigh between 8 and 12 pounds and measure 36 inches.
In North America, there are different species of turkeys. The five North American wild turkey species are Eastern Wild Turkey, Osceola Turkey, Merriam’s Turkey, Gould’s Turkey, and Rio Grande Turkey.
The Eastern Turkey is often found in Southern Canada, while Osceola turkeys are found in Mexico. The Gould’s Turkey lives in New Mexico and was considered a rare species and was put on the endangered species list in 1974. There is also the domestic turkey and this is the turkey we all enjoy during our Thanksgiving dinner.
Although no one knows for sure, accounts of the first Thanksgiving hint that wild turkeys were eaten, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on October 3, 1863. When the national bird of the United States was being decided, there was a myth. Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey instead of the bald eagle. He had written a letter to his daughter stating the original eagle design for the Great Seal looked like a turkey and called the turkey the American bird, a respectable bird, and bird of courage.
Parts Of A Turkey
Turkeys and chickens are not the same bird. They are both poultry. Poultry includes birds like:
Chickens and turkeys share the same kingdom, phylum, class, and order. The turkey belongs to the subfamily Phasianidae and the genus Meleagris. Chickens belong to the Phasianinae subfamily and the Gallus genus. This means they are completely different birds.
Turkeys have the same basic parts as chickens. They have ears, earlobes, eyes, eye rings, a beak, wings, tail, claws, toes, etc. A turkey uses its wings too! Turkeys can fly between 40-55 miles an hour. On average, they can fly for 100 yards or the length of a football field. They may even be able to fly 60 miles an hour for short distances. Turkeys use their wings, legs, and claws for roosting in trees. During the night, you won’t find a turkey on the ground. Wild turkeys spend their nights in trees to avoid predators.
There are some differences though. Chickens have a comb on the top of their heads, while turkeys have a flap of skin at the base of their beak. This is called a snood and it is longer on males. They also have a wattle under their beaks and fleshy growths on their neck and head. These are called caruncles.
There are two layers of tail feathers on a teach. The short coverts are in front, and the rectrices are much longer in the back. These can grow up to 18 inches long, and there are typically 18 of them.
Baby turkeys are called poult and sometimes called chicks too. Nesting season for turkeys is between mid-March and April. A hen will lay between 10-12 eggs over two weeks. These eggs will hatch about 28 days later in early Spring. It usually takes the baby turkey about 24-36 hours to hatch.
During the first four weeks of life, the baby turkeys can not fly and rely on their mother for protection. The mother will hiss and ruffle its feathers to scare predators away. When the poults are around 4-5 weeks only, they can fly 25-50 feet and will begin to roost in trees with their mother.
Turkeys learn from each other. They will often imitate their siblings, mother, and older birds. They learn how to find food and navigate their home range.
Young turkeys need a little more nutritious protein in their diet. They will catch and eat small animals like snakes, mice, and moles.
Turkeys live in mixed-conifer and hardwood forests which means you will find them in forests with pine trees and trees like oak and maples. They also like a forest that has open spaces to be able to find food.
A turkey’s diet depends on the season. They eat more fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, and small inserts in the Fall. During the Spring, they eat leaves and grasses.
In 2021, the US raised 216.5 million turkeys on farms and produced 5.558 billion pounds of turkey. The states which produce the most turkey are Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, Iowa, and California. The National Turkey Federation is made up of hardworking men and women. It provides more than 387,346 American jobs, and the turkey industry produces, processes, and delivers more than 216 million turkeys each year.
The turkey industry is a huge industry worth over $103.4 billion. It is not all about the meat. The industry includes animal health, packaging, equipment, transportation, and more. Other important industries inside of the turkey industry are product distribution, equipment manufacturing and other services.
Fun Turkey Facts
Here are some fun facts about turkeys.
Only male turkeys gobble. Turkeys make a lot of different sounds like “purrs, yelps, and kee-kees.” The gobble sounds are only made by male turkeys during mating season.
Turkeys see better than humans. Turkeys have three times better vision than humans. They can also see in color and can see 270 degrees around them.
Turkey poops tell the gender. Female droppings are a spiral shape and males are formed like a letter J.
The heaviest turkey was 86 pounds. This turkey was the same size as a german shepherd.
A turkey courtship display is known as strutting. The male turkey displays their beautiful tail feathers to impress females.
The founding fathers fought over three birds for our national symbol. The eagle won over the dove and turkey.
Adult turkey has around 5,000 to 6,000 feathers. These feathers come in many colors like white, black, silver, blue coppers, and red.
Turkeys lived 10 million years ago. They lived before and with woolly mammoths.
Turkeys almost went extinct (twice). The California turkey went extinct about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, and when European settlers arrived in America, turkeys again found themselves as targets of hunting.
All but 1 U.S. state has turkeys. The only state without turkeys is Alaska.
Bonus Interesting Facts
Here are a couple of bonus interesting turkey facts.
- Turkey hunting is a popular sport in the United States.
- Turkeys have more than doubled in size in the last 40 years.
Turkeys may be delicious to many people, but they are more than that. Turkeys are a symbol of our nation and are some of the coolest birds around!