Turkey Trivia: Amazing Facts About Turkeys | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Turkey Trivia

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Strutting Tom Turkey, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania PA urban / suburban wildlife. Turkey trivia. Why do Turkeys gobble?
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Facts About the Turkey—An All-American Bird!

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It’s time for turkey trivia and fun facts about this iconic bird. Can turkeys fly? What’s a baby turkey called? Impress your friends and family at the Thanksgiving table with these turkey facts!

Turkey Trivia

Are Turkeys Native to the Americas?

Yes, turkeys originated in the “New World.” Specifically, wild turkeys are native to Mexico. It’s a funny history. European explorers brought wild turkeys home with them in the early 1500s. The birds were domesticated in Europe and later brought to North America by English colonists. Note that domesticated turkeys have white-tipped tails; wild turkeys have dark-tipped tails.

Why Do Turkeys Gobble?

Only male turkeys, or toms, can make a call known as a “gobble;” they mostly do it in the spring and fall. It is a mating call and attracts the hens. Wild turkeys gobble when they’re surprised by loud sounds and when they settle in for the night. The wild turkey can make at least 30 different calls!

Could the Turkey Have Been the National Bird?

Ben Franklin thought the turkey would be a better national symbol than the bald eagle. According to the Franklin Institute, he wrote in a letter to his daughter:

“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly…like those among men who live by sharping and robbing…he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district…For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours…”

How Much Turkey Does a Person Eat Per Year?

The average person in the United States will eat 15 pounds of turkey this year.

white domestic turkey with red head

What’s That Weird Wobbly Thing on a Turkey’s Neck?

The loose red skin attached to the underside of a turkey’s beak is called a wattle. When the male turkey is excited, especially during mating season, the wattle turns a scarlet red. The fleshy flap of skin hanging over the gobbler’s beak is called a snood and turns bright red when the bird is excited. The wobbly little thing on the turkey’s chest is the turkey’s beard, made up of keratin bristles. Keratin is the same substance that forms hair and horns on other animals.

Is the Turkey Considered a Game Bird?

Yes, but the wild turkey is one of the more challenging game birds to hunt. It won’t be flushed out of the brush with a dog. Instead, hunters must try to attract it with different calls. Only one in six hunters will get a wild turkey, even with two seasons a year.

By the 1930s, almost all of the wild turkeys in the U.S. had been hunted. Today, thanks to conservation programs, there are plenty of wild turkeys—they even invade cities and suburbs!

Are Turkeys Named After Turkey, the Country?

When Europeans first encountered the wild turkey in Mexico, they incorrectly classified the bird as a type of guinea fowl called a turkey fowl. 

Turkish traders originally sold guinea fowl from Africa to European markets; Turkey has no native turkeys!

What Is a Baby Turkey Called? And What About Adult Turkeys?

A baby turkey is called a poult, chick, or even turklette. An adult male turkey is called a tom (an adolescent male is a jake), and a female is a hen.

How Big Do Turkeys Get?

The domestic tom can weigh up to 50 pounds, and the domestic hen up to 16 pounds. The wild tom can weigh up to 20 pounds, and the wild hen up to 12 pounds.

flock of wild american turkeys

Can Turkeys Fly?

The wild turkey can fly! (It does, however, prefer to walk or run.) The domestic turkey is not an agile flyer, although the bird will perch in trees to stay safe from predators.

How Long Do Turkeys Live?

The average life span of a wild turkey is three or four years. It generally feeds on seeds, nuts, insects, and berries. The average life span of a domestic turkey, from birth to freezer, is 26 weeks. During this period, it will eat about 75 pounds of turkey feed.

What’s your favorite turkey fact? Let us know in the comments!

Learn More

Turkeys are, of course, best known for being the main course at Thanksgiving. Learn how to cook a turkey and see our favorite Thanksgiving recipes!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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