Turkey

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Category: Animal Info Pages

 


The domestic or wild American turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)  are part of the taxonomic family of Phasianidae, which is comprised of many fowl which are typically sought game birds.  Despite many horrible Thanksgiving jokes, the turkey actually does get its name from the country Turkey.  The first European explorers who came across the wild American turkey misidentified the bird as a type of guinea fowl.  At the time, guinea fowl were thought to come from Turkey, so they named the bird the "turkey fowl", and eventually that term was shortened to just "turkey".

 

While many extinct species of turkey have been recovered as fossils, there are actually only two extant species of turkey left, the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) native to the Yucatán Peninsula, and the American turkey.  Native Americans are responsible for domesticating the first turkeys as early as 800 BC.  As is well known in American culture, Native Americans used turkey feathers for a variety of ceremonial items, and as for embellishments on clothing as well.  The turkey was eventually brought to Europe from the Middle East, and successfully domesticated. 

 

Both domestic and wild turkeys in America are the same species, though you may not know it to look at them.  Wild turkeys appear mostly dark brown in color, likely to blend into their forest and fringe habitats.  Domestic turkeys, however, tend to have white plumage.  This is due to selective breeding for traits that enhance flavor and yield. 

 

As in many galliformes (heavy bodied ground feeding game birds) the male birds tend to display much more color variance than females.  Encased in the brown exterior plumage are bright hues of blue, red, creme, and orange.  Males also exhibit a bright red snood, which is the dangley bit that hangs from the top of the beak, not to be confused with the wattle under the beak.  Both the snood and wattle serve as not only a courtship display, but also a sign of the turkey's pecking order among other males (pun intended).