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Turkey Facts

Turkey Facts and Biology

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Turkey outside
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The turkey is a very popular bird, especially around the holiday season. Before sitting down to enjoy that holiday meal, I believe it is appropriate to pay tribute to this splendid bird by discovering some interesting turkey facts. The wild turkey is the only type of poultry native to North America and is the ancestor of the domesticated turkey. Although wild and domesticated turkeys are related, there are some differences between the two. While wild turkeys are capable of flight, domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys typically have dark colored feathers, while domesticated turkeys are commonly bred to have white feathers. Domesticated turkeys are also bred to have large breast muscles. The big breast muscles on these turkeys make it too difficult for mating, so they must be artificially inseminated. Turkeys are a good, low-fat source of protein. They have become an increasingly popular choice of poultry because of their taste and good nutritional value.

Turkey Facts: Turkey Names

What do you call a turkey? The scientific name for the wild and modern domesticated turkey is Meleagris gallopavo. The common names used for the number or type of turkey changes depending on the age or gender of the animal. For example, male turkeys are called toms, female turkeys are called hens, baby turkeys are called poults and a group of turkeys is called a flock.

Turkey Facts: Turkey Biology

Turkeys have interesting features that stand out upon first glance. One of the first things people notice about turkeys are the red, fleshy stretches of skin and bulbous growths located around the head and neck region. These structures are the:
  • Caruncle-fleshy bumps on the head and neck
  • Snood-long flap of flesh that hangs over the beak
  • Wattle-red skin that hangs from the neck
Another prominent and noticeable feature of the turkey is its plumage. Voluminous feathers cover the breast, wings, back, body and tail of the bird. Male turkeys also have what is called a beard located in the chest area. Upon sight, the beard appears to be hair, but is actually a mass of thin feathers. Male turkeys also have sharp, spike-like projections on their legs called spurs.

Turkey Senses

Vision: A turkeys eyes are located on opposite sides of its head. The position of the eyes allows the animal to see two objects at once, but limits its depth perception. Turkeys have a wide field of vision and by moving their neck, they can gain a 360-degree field of view.

Hearing: Turkeys do not have external ear structures such as tissue flaps or canals to assist with hearing. They have small holes in their head located behind the eyes. Turkeys have a keen sense of hearing and can pinpoint sounds from as far as a mile away.

Touch: Turkeys are highly sensitive to touch in areas such as the beak and feet. This sensitivity is useful for obtaining and maneuvering food.

Smell and Taste: Turkeys do not have a highly developed sense of smell. The region of the brain that controls olfaction is relatively small. The sense of taste is believed to be underdeveloped as well. They have fewer taste buds than do mammals and can detect salt, sweet, acid and bitter tastes.

Turkey Facts: Stats

According to the National Turkey Federation, 95 percent of Americans surveyed eat turkey during Thanksgiving. They also estimate that about 45 million turkeys are consumed during this time. This translates to about 675 million pounds of turkey. With that being said, one would think that November would be National Turkey Lovers' Month. The month of June however is dedicated to turkey lovers. Turkeys range is size from small fryers (5-10 pounds) to larger turkeys weighing over 40 pounds. Large holiday birds typically mean a fair amount of leftovers. According to the Minnesota Turkey Research and Promotion Council, the top five most popular ways to serve turkey leftovers are: sandwiches, soups or stews, salads, casseroles and stir-fry.


Sources:
Dickson, James G. The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1992. Print.
National Turkey Federation
Nebraska Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Turkey Research and Promotion Council

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