Turkey Trivia

Wild TurkeysSince most of us will become intimately acquainted with a turkey today, I thought you might enjoy some fascinating facts about Wild Turkeys.

Male turkeys (called “toms” or “gobblers”) have striking blue heads and red wattles. The intensity of the color depends on the turkey’s mood. Compare these two photos:

Wild turkey comparisonTurkeys are polygamous. One tom will mate with as many different hens as possible. However, turkeys also “double date.” Closely related males may court in groups. It has been found that a dominant male that courts with a sibling has significantly more offspring than a male who pursues females on his own.

Wild Turkey_SantaRitaLodge-MaderaCynAZ_20100511_LAH_1652Female prefer males with bright red wattles.

The fleshy bumps seen on a turkey’s head are termed caruncles. We may not find them attractive, but other turkeys are impressed.

The long, fleshy growth hanging over this turkey’s beak is termed a “snood.”

Young male turkeys are “jakes.”

One hundred years ago, there were only around 30,000 wild turkeys left in the United States, and almost none remained in Canada. Conservation measures have successfully increased the population to its current level of over 7 million.

Turkeys were originally native to the eastern U.S. and northern Mexico, but have now been introduced to (and are hunted in) every state except Alaska. Yup, you can even find turkeys in Hawaii.

Wild Turkey_MtDiablo-CA_LAH_8685Male turkeys wear beards, but they’re located on their chests. Beards are actually tufts of thin feathers, around nine inches long. This turkey’s beard is clearly seen. Some females have beards too, but no one seems to mind.

Turkeys do not migrate; they stick around even in winter.

Turkeys gobble, but they also cluck, yelp, whine, cackle and purr. Maybe they’re multi-lingual?

Gobbles can be heard up to a mile away. It’s a call to the female that Tom is ready to mate. A gobble also puts competing males on notice.

Wild Turkey_MtDiablo-CA_LAH_8699Like chickens, turkey flocks have a pecking order, with older and larger birds bossing the smaller ones around.

Turkeys can barely smell or taste, which might explain some of their dietary habits.

Turkeys eat plants and small animals, including insects,  and pretty much anything else they come across. They are eaten by predators such as raccoons and foxes and especially people.

Turkeys have holes in their heads. No, their brains aren’t leaking out. The holes allow sound to reach the internal ears, giving them excellent hearing.

Americans will eat about 736 million pounds of turkey today, but most of it will be from domestic turkeys, which are quite different from their wild cousins.

Today I’m thankful that I’m not a turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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