Beyond the Gobble: Little Known Facts about Turkeys

In 1782 Benjamin Franklin wrote “the wild turkey is a bird of courage that would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on,” in an effort to promote the turkey over the bald eagle as the national emblem of the United States. Although the turkey was not selected to hold the prestigious position of national emblem, the bird is certainly an icon for the month of November and the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday.

A turkey featured on the New York State Capital building. Photo by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP.
A turkey is featured on the New York State Capital building. Photo by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP.

There is much more to know about turkeys than what side dishes the bird pairs nicely with on the Thanksgiving table. To be the hostess with the mostess (turkey knowledge, that is) try sharing some of the following fun facts with your dinner guests this Thursday!

  • Turkeys can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour and can fly up to an impressive speed of 55 miles per hour.
  • The area of bare skin on a turkey’s throat and head changes color depending on its level of stress or excitement. A male turkey’s head will turn blue when excited, or turn red when it is preparing to fight.
  • Male turkeys have beards and spurs. The older the turkey, the longer the beard. Females are called hens, chicks are known as poults, and young males are jakes. See the photo below for more information about turkey anatomy!
  • Because turkeys have a number of natural predators, including foxes, coyotes, and raccoons, they often sleep perched atop tree branches with their flock. In the morning, they call out a series of yelps before descending from the tree to ensure that the rest of their roosting group has made it safely through the night.
  • Turkeys have excellent daytime eyesight that is 3x better than a human’s! A turkey’s vision range covers 270 degrees, and they can also see in color. Turkeys have poor vision at night.
  • Wild turkeys were almost hunted to extinction by the early 1900’s, but recovery efforts have brought their numbers up to seven million across North America today. Allegany State Park in western New York was the source site for turkeys that were later reintroduced across the rest of the state in the 1950’s. It was presumed that these turkeys wandered across the state border from Pennsylvania.
Snood - wattle - caruncle - beard - spur diagram off of a parks turkey picture
Above: A male turkey (called a tom) at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Photo by OPRHP, edited by Lilly Schelling.

Post by Megan Phillips, OPRHP. Photos by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP.


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