Today Show

14 Facts About Turkeys


It's Thanksgiving, so I HAD to post something about turkeys.  Here are some facts about these large, weird looking birds.


14. Wild turkeys are native to North America and are only found on this continent.

13. Wild turkeys are one of only two North American species to ever be domesticated (the other is the Muscovy duck). Spanish explorers took wild turkeys from what is now Mexico back to Europe, where they were bred and domesticated, resulting in the bird that will likely be served on your Thanksgiving dinner table.

12. Wild turkey babies are precocial, which means that they hatch out of the egg already covered in fluffy down and fully able to walk, run and feed themselves. They stick close to mom for protection from predators, but unlike many other bird species, she doesn't have to feed them.

Wild Turkey

Photo by David Slater via Flickr Creative Commons.  

11. Domestic turkeys have been bred to have enormous breasts to make them more appealing on the dinner table. As a result, these top-heavy birds have lost the ability to fly. Wild turkeys, however, can and do fly. In fact, they typically roost in trees at night to avoid predators.

10. Wild turkeys, although large and formidable birds, are still on the menu for a variety of predators. Coyotes and bobcats prey on them, and snakes, foxes, and raptors such as hawks and owls feed on their young. As a result, wild turkeys have gorgeously camouflaged plumage to match the forest environments where they live, and they can be remarkabley steathly to avoid detection.

9. Wild turkeys were once almost completely wiped out due to a combination of poorly regulaged hunting and habitat destruction. Thanks to strong conservation efforts that included better hunting management, captive breeding, reintroduciton into the wild and protection of habitat, wild turkeys today are numerous and found in all of the lower 48 states. (They've even been introduced by people to Hawaii, where they are an unwelcome invasive exotic species competing with native Hawaiian wildlife.)

8. Wild turkeys are now even showing up in suburbia and even in the middle of cities. I once saw one walking down the sidewalk in a tree-lined neighborhood in downtown Washington DC. Sometimes male wild turkeys can become territorial, resulting in hours of wasted time watching "turkey attack" videos.

7. No, turkeys will not drown if they look up into the sky during a rainstorm. 

6. Male wild turkeys are the inspiration for the stereotypical turkey image of a large bird, all puffed up with spread tail feathers and a bright blue and red head. Males, as is the case with many birds, are the flashier of the two sexes. They use their beauty to intimidate other males and to woo females into mating with them.

5. To woo those mates, male turkeys have body appendages called snoods, wattles and beards. Snoods are the fleshy protuberances that hang over their beaks, wattles are the dangly bits on their necks, and beards of the long feathers that hang down from their chests. This makes them awesome. 

4. Benjamin Franklin famously argued that the wild turkey, not the bald eagle, should be America's national symbol. Bald eagles frequently scavenge on the bodies of dead animals, and steal food from each other and other predators. Ol' Ben wasn't immune to gross anthropomorphism and declared the eagle a dirty, craven thief unfit to represent the country.

3. It's possible that turkey was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving, but unlikely. The species is never mentioned by name in written accounts of the event. "Fowl" was on the menu, but based on what would have been more typically available at the time, it's more likely that it was goose, duck and grouse than turkey. There might even have been bald eagle on the menu.  This no doubt would have made Ben Franklin happy, along with your boorish uncle who likes to make jokes about eating endangered species.

2. Before you stuff your face with turkey this Thanksgiving, learn how you can help wild turkeys stuff their faces right in your own yard with these "Six Tips for Feeding Wild Turkeys with your Garden" from the National Wildlife Federation.

1. Watch my latest Today Show appearance, complete with a wild turkey. The turkey tries to make a run for it, sending Kathie Lee and Hoda ducking for cover.


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David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >







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