Whether you eat it or not, the turkey is the main bird of the last quarter of the year. Even though turkeys are the centerpiece for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, there are many more fun things to know about them, aside from the best way to cook one and what sides taste the best with them. Whether you grew up on a farm and were unfortunate enough to have a turkey, or you just like fun facts about festive birds, there are plenty of ways to get to know your dinner.
There are two types of turkeys across America—wild turkeys and the domesticated ones that end up on dinner tables—so take a minute to learn some turkey facts while yours waits in the brine.
1. Although turkeys originate in South America, calling them turkeys began after they were exported from Spain to Turkey and then to England. They were called "turkey-cocks," due to them being a ground bird, but that was eventually shortened to just turkey.
2. According to heifer.org, turkeys are considered a nuisance in Massachusetts. In Brookline, Massachusetts, town officials encourage people to make loud noises, spray the turkeys with water hoses, and shoo them away with brooms—just be sure not to look them in the eye!
3. There are six subspecies of wild turkey that are native to North America, Smithsonian Magazine reports. The Aztecs domesticated the M. gallopavo gallopavo, or the South Mexican wild turkey, and so began the start of turkey exports to Europe.
4. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in the early 1900s, wild turkeys were nearly extinct, with only about 200,000 remaining in the wild then. But with conservation efforts from the Pittman-Robertson Act, there are now nearly 6.5 million wild turkeys in the U.S.! That's nearly 2 million more than the total population of Louisiana.
5. Male turkeys have a fun organ called a snood—an erectile and fleshy growth on their foreheads. Not only are they used for mating displays and hierarchal settings, but they are often used in fighting among commercial turkeys. Turkeys peck and pull at other snoods, which can result in serious injuries, leading farmers to partake in a process called desnooding.
6. And to finish off on the grossest note, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explains that the sex of turkeys can be distinguished from their poop! Females have spiral-shaped droppings and males have j-shaped droppings. Like many birds, there is no distinction between the reproductive and digestive tracts, making excrement take on distinctive shapes based on their sex. As they grow older, the diameter of their droppings also increases.
May you have a very fowl Thanksgiving!