Most of us would agree that Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without a turkey on the table. The two have obviously become synonymous, much to the chagrin of organizations like PETA. But, since this is the holiday to be grateful, we’re definitely going to say that we’re grateful for turkeys. Sounds silly, but the foul does deserve some respect. It’s the least we humans could do for our feathered entree.
So, before you dig into your Thanksgiving feast, here are 18 things that you should know about the turkey.
- Meleagris gallopavo is the scientific name for the wild and modern domesticated turkey.
- Male turkeys are called toms, female turkeys are hens, and baby turkeys are called poults. A group of turkeys is called a flock.
- Male turkeys can also be called gobblers, since they gobble. Hens, however, don’t gobble. They make a clicking noise.
- A wattle is the fleshy growth under a turkey’s throat. Turkeys also have a long, red, fleshy area that grows from the forehead over the bill called a snood. Male turkeys also have sharp, spike-like projections on their legs fittingly called spurs.
- Not only can turkeys see in color, they also have an excellent field of vision, since their eyes are located on opposite sides of their head. When moving their neck, they get a 360-degree field of view.
- Turkeys can blush. When they become frightened, agitated, excited or ill, the skin on their head and neck changes from its usual pale pink or bluish gray color to red, white, or blue.
- Turkeys have two stomachs.
- The gizzard contains stones that the turkey has swallowed. Since turkeys don’t have teeth, these stones aid in the breakdown of food for digestion.
- When spooked, turkeys can run at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. They can also burst into flight approaching speeds between 50-55 mph in a matter of seconds.
- They spend the night in trees.
- Turkeys have heart attacks. When the Air Force was conducting test runs and breaking the sound barrier, fields of turkeys would drop dead.
- Despite the myth, turkeys do not drown if they look up when it is raining.
- Early explorers to the New World developed a taste for turkey. By the 1500s, turkeys were brought back to Europe and were being raised domestically in Italy, France and England.
- Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird. He said:
For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly…like those among men who live by sharping and robbing…he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district…For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours…”
- By the 1930s, the population of wild turkeys shrank to fewer than 30,000 birds, thanks to habitat destruction and unregulated shooting. Today, there are roughly 6.4 million wild turkeys and can be found in every state.
- Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin enjoyed roasted turkey and all of the trimmings for their first meal on the moon.
- According to the National Turkey Federation (NTF), 88 percent of Americans surveyed eat turkey during Thanksgiving.
- The NTF estimates that about 46 million turkeys are consumed around Thanksgiving.