turkey, common name for a large game and poultry bird related to the grouse and the pheasant. Its name derives from its "turk-turk" call. Turkeys are indigenous to the New World; American fossils date back 40 million years to the Oligocene. The Mexican turkey, taken to Europe in the 16th cent. by the conquistadors, is the original of the domestic race. The wild eastern turkey, Meleagris gallapavo, was common in New England at the time of the Pilgrims, but has been exterminated there and now ranges from New York to Missouri. Commercial operations produced 260 million turkeys in the United States in 1989. Wild turkeys are woodland birds, gregarious except at breeding time. They are nonmigratory, although they are good fliers. Like pheasants, they are polygamous, and the male, who eats little during courtship, depends at this time on a fatty breast appendage for nourishment. The female alone builds the nest on the ground; she lays 8 to 15 eggs per clutch and also broods the young. The colorful ocellated turkey, Agriocharis ocellata is found in Central America. Turkeys are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Galliformes, family Meleagrididae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.