Americans owe so much to this noble bird, which year after year gives its all to the annual pig-out that is Thanksgiving. But they are so much more than tasty packets of dark and white meat on two legs.
1. Turkeys are descendants of a group of meat-eating dinosaurs that included tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptors (the wishbone is a remnant of its dino lineage – chickens also have a wishbone, but the two birds are separated by 45 million years of evolution).
3. Recent archeological finds indicate the earliest evidence of domesticated turkeys was about 1,500 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico. North American tribes also appear to have deliberately cultivated the birds for hundreds of years as well.
4. Only male turkeys make the distinctive “gobbling” noise considered a turkey trademark. Females communicate with clucks and chirps.
5. Groups of turkeys are known as rafters or musters (according to the Audubon society)
6. Turkey doesn’t contain higher concentrations of tryptophan (the chemical said to make you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner) than other meats; the reason you get sleepy is that the potatoes and pie and other starchy dishes cause your pancreas to create insulin, which sweeps the proteins from your bloodstream, but leaves behind the tryptophan, which can make its way to the brain to make serotonin, a neurotransmitters involved in the sleep cycle.
7. The turkey’s name derives from the country of the same name. The prevailing theory is that Turkish merchants sold African guinea fowl to European markets, and the birds came to be known as turkeys. European colonists in the New World apparently thought the large birds they found here looked more like guinea fowl than any other bird in their vocabulary.
8. Male turkeys are called toms or gobblers, females are hens, newly hatched turkeys are poults and adolescent male turkeys are jakes, while young females are jennies.
9. Size matters: The length of the snood (the dangly thingy that that hangs from a turkey’s beak) correlates to the health of the turkey. In choosing a mate, lady turkeys go for the guy with the longest snood.
10. Contrary to slanderous stories about (domesticated) turkeys’ alleged lack of intelligence, they will not drown in a rain storm because they look up to see if it’s raining and become so fascinated they stand there with their mouths open. This is a myth, possibly stemming from the domesticated bird’s relative lack of native cunning and survival skills.