Another year, another (American) Thanksgiving. Time to trot out the turkey facts! This day of thanks is, after all, known as Turkey Day. Please enjoy this 10,000 Birds tradition and enjoy everything you are thankful for this year…

Wild Turkey

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 probably more than 7 million wild turkeys. They can be found in every state except Alaska (but see the comments below!)
  • 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. This is not to be confused with the highly addictive computer game with the same name.
  • 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.”

Wild Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at 10,000 Birds!

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.