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A Wilder View: Interesting turkey facts for Thanksgiving

Posted at 8:13 AM, Nov 23, 2022

MISSOULA - Turkeys are the centerpiece of the holiday meal, but there’s a lot more to the large bird.

This edition of A Wilder View takes a look at some interesting facts that you can share at the dinner table.

As part of Thanksgiving festivities, families across the nation enjoy a turkey dinner. But how well do you really know the centerpiece of this tradition?

Your holiday turkey is a Saurischian dinosaur – yes a dinosaur!

Saurischian falls into the same category as a T-rex and velociraptor, so they’ve been around for millions of years.

Turkeys are among the five largest flying birds in the world.

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, they can fly at speeds up to 55 mph, although they usually choose to stay on the ground.

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, turkeys can fly at speeds up to 55 mph.

Here they can be pretty speedy too as a running turkey can reach up to 25 mph.

They also have incredible vision. Their eyes can see three times greater than 20/20 and have a peripheral vision of around 270º.

Turkeys are known for the gobbling sound they make, but only males can make the iconic sound.

Female turkeys will cluck much like a chicken, yelp, and even purr like a cat.

If you don’t hear them but find their droppings you can determine a turkey’s gender from what they leave behind.

Males produce spiral-shaped poop and females’ poop is shaped like the letter J.

Studies have also shown that snood length — that fleshy thing on the forehead of males — is associated with turkey health.

Researchers at the University of Illinois say turkeys have been around for over 10 million years.

Studies also found that female turkeys prefer males with long snoods and that snood length can also be used to predict the winner of a competition between two males.

It may be hard to imagine turkeys roaming around 10,000 years ago at the same time saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths were walking the Earth.

But according to the University of Illinois turkeys have been around way longer than that — they’ve been here for over 10 million years.

So, how did they get their name?

It seems strange that a bird Native to North America is named after a faraway country. Well, their name is kind of a mistake.

When turkeys became popular to eat in England, they tasted similar to guinea fowl that were imported from the country Turkey and thus gave the bird its now familiar name.

turkey dinner
The 1621 Thanksgiving dinner with English colonists and Native Americans may have involved a turkey.

Benjamin Franklin never actually proposed the turkey as a symbol for America, but he did praise it in a letter as “a much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle.

Although it’s tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey nowadays, the 1621 Thanksgiving dinner with English colonists and Native Americans only might have involved a turkey.

From the only surviving documents that reference the original meal, we do know that deer, wildfowl, and corn were for sure on the menu.

Wild turkeys were hunted to near extinction by the early 1900s, reaching around 30,000 individuals.

But restoration programs across North America have brought the numbers up to seven million today.