The turkey was the largest ground-nesting bird that the European settlers found when they arrived in the New World. It can live in a variety of habitats all across North America. Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the turkey to become the national bird of the United States. He claimed that the turkey was a more "respectable" bird than the eagle.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Aves
Order - Galliformes
Family - Phasianidae
Subfamily - Meleagridinae
Genus - Meleagris
Species - M. gallopavo
Common Names - Turkey, Wild Turkey
Turkeys are large birds, weighing up to 20 pounds. They have large muscular breasts and long, strong legs. One of the most eye-catching features of turkeys are the red, knobby growths of skin that cover parts of the birds' heads and necks. Males often have large tufts of feathers growing from the front of the breast called a beard. Turkeys come in shades of brown, red, black, and white, and they usually have several colors of feathers with interesting patterns. Some turkeys, especially wild ones, have iridescent feathers. Commercial turkeys are usually the breed called the "Broad-breasted White." They have massive breasts and are covered with white feathers.
Commercial turkeys cannot reproduce in the natural way because the massive breasts prevent the males from mounting females in the normal manner. Commercial turkey hens are artificially inseminated, and their eggs are incubated for them because the commercial breeds are such poor mothers. Other breeds of turkeys can raise their own broods. After mating with a male turkey, turkey hens sit on a "clutch" of eggs for 28 days before the "poults" hatch.
Poults eat small berries, insects, and grubs. Adult turkeys may eat acorns, berries, insects, and small frogs and lizards. Turkeys are quite mobile, and wild turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hour. Turkeys prefer living in a flock, but they can be quite territorial, fighting with those of other groups. Like many types of poultry, turkeys establish a "pecking order," by which each bird is ranked by its fighting abilities.
Europeans had no idea what to make of the odd-looking birds that they discovered in Central America, describing them as a cross between Guinea fowl and peacocks. Explorers sent these birds back to Europe, where they flourished as domesticated fowl. Later, colonists returned the turkeys to North America to the east coast settlements. Colonists crossed the birds with specimens found in the wild to create breeds such as the American Bronze turkey, the basis of many commercial turkey breeds. Once the United States was established, wild turkeys were hunted to the brink of extinction. Conservation programs were enacted, and now the birds are doing well in the wild.
Wild turkeys live all across the United States and in central America. Domesticated turkeys live all over the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe.