Find fast facts about wild and domesticated turkeys in the United States.
How the Turkey Got Its Name
There are a number of explanations for the origin of the name of Thanksgiving's favorite dinner guest. Some believe Christopher Columbus thought that the land he discovered was connected to India, and believed the bird he discovered (the turkey) was a type of peacock. He therefore called it 'tuka,' which is 'peacock' in Tamil, an Indian language.
Though the turkey is actually a type of pheasant, one can't blame the explorer for trying.
The Native American name for turkey is 'firkee'; some say this is how turkeys got their name. Simple facts, however, sometimes produce the best answers—when a turkey is scared, it makes a "turk, turk, turk" noise.
- At one time, the turkey and the bald eagle were each considered as the national symbol of America. Benjamin Franklin was one of those who argued passionately on behalf of the turkey. Franklin felt the turkey, although "vain and silly", was a better choice than the bald eagle, whom he felt was "a coward".
- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving—that's one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year. American per capita consumption of turkeys has soared from 8.3 pounds in 1975 to 18.5 pounds in 1997 and has remained stable at about 16 pounds since 2011.
- In 2014, 235 million turkeys were raised. Compare this with the record low of 17.1 million birds in 1930, and the record high of 302.7 million in 1996.
- Turkeys are fed a diet of mainly corn and soybean meal along with a supplement of vitamins and minerals. They grow to full maturity in about 4 to 5 months, depending on the desired market weight.
- Only tom turkeys gobble.
- Age is a determining factor in taste. Old, large males are preferable to young toms (males) as tom meat is stringy. The opposite is true for females: old hens are tougher birds.
- A turkey under sixteen weeks of age is called a fryer, while a young roaster is five to seven months old.
- Turkeys are the only breed of poultry native to the Western Hemisphere.
- Turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears. They can also see in color, and have excellent visual acuity and a wide field of vision (about 270 degrees), which makes sneaking up on them difficult. However, turkeys have a poor sense of smell (what's cooking?), but an excellent sense of taste.
- Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys, however, can fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. They can also reach speeds of 25 miles per hour on the ground.
- Turkeys sometimes spend the night in trees.
- Turkeys can have heart attacks: turkeys in fields near the Air Force test areas over which the sound barrier was broken were known to drop dead from the shock of passing jets
- The ballroom dance known as the Turkey Trot was named for the short, jerky steps a turkey makes.
For more turkey facts see Fowl FAQs.