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

Turkey Trivia

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Facts About the Turkey—An All-American Bird!

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It’s time for turkey trivia! Can turkeys fly? What’s a baby turkey called? Impress 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,” and 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.

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 that hangs over the gobbler’s beak is called a snood and also turns bright red when the bird is excited. The wobbly little thing on the turkey’s chest is the turkey’s beard and is 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 difficult 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. Even with two seasons a year, only one in six hunters will get a wild turkey.

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. 

It was Turkish traders who 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 and a female is a hen.

How Big Do Turkeys Get?
The domestic tom can weigh up to 50 pounds, the domestic hen up to 16 pounds. The wild tom can weigh up to 20 pounds, the wild hen up to 12 pounds.

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 of time, 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!

2023 Almanac Club