How To Talk Turkey This Thanksgiving

As you gather around the table this week in celebration of Thanksgiving, impress your dinner mates with these tidbits about the holiday’s top bird!

Turkey

  • European explorers took wild turkeys to Europe from Mexico in the early 1500s. They were domesticated there and were later brought back to North America by English colonists. These domesticated turkeys have white-tipped tails while wild turkeys have dark-tipped tails. Learn more about the genetics of turkeys.
  • When Europeans first encountered the wild turkey, it was incorrectly classified as a type of guinea fowl, also known as turkey fowl.
  • The turkey is one of only two domesticated birds originating in the New World. The other is the Muscovy duck.
  • The wild turkey is an agile flier, unlike its domesticated counterpart.
  • When excited, the male’s head and neck coloration changes, alternating between shades of reds, whites, and blues.
  • The wild turkey can make at least 30 different calls. In the spring, the adult male makes a call known as a gobble to attract females. Humans can hear gobbles from a mile away.
    The male turkey is often referred to as a tom and a female is called a hen.
  • Benjamin Franklin argued that the wild turkey, and not the bald eagle, would be a far better choice for the national bird. He wrote in a letter to his daughter:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him… 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 & 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.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1784

For more turkey facts and fun, check out our comprehensive turkey fact sheet, as well as our graphic on how to differentiate between domesticated and wild turkeys.

Happy Thanksgiving NATURE fans!