Turkey Dinner
Courtesy glueslabs


There is no direct evidence that the Pilgrims ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Diaries and journals refer to settlers hunting fowl, which could well have included wild turkeys. But they probably relied more heavily on other game that was easier to catch, as well as fish, fruits and vegetables.

(If the Pilgrims did eat any turkey, it probably would have been the farm-raised variety, brought over from England!)

The modern custom of having a turkey at Thanksgiving came from a marketing campaign to sell farmed turkeys.

Guinea Fowl
Guinea Fowl
Courtesy bibi-pov

A turkey by any other name would still taste as good

If the turkey is native to North America, how come it’s named after a country in Asia? Simple—because Europeans mistook it for a bird from Africa.

This is going to take some explaining …

The guinea fowl, a game bird, lives throughout much of Africa south of the Sahara. Around 1500, Turkish merchants introduced the bird to Europeans, who called it a “Turkey-cock.” Several decades later, European explorers in North America came across a bird that looked a lot like the guinea fowl, and they called that a turkey, too.

Some authors claim the word "turkey" comes from the Hebrew tukki, which means "peacock." Unfortunately for this theory, the Hebrew word for turkey is actually tarnegol hodu, or “Indian chicken.” Early European explorers thought the Americas were part of India. Thus, in many European languages, the word for “turkey” translates as “Indian bird,” or something similar.

And what do they call a turkey in Turkey? Hindi, another Indian reference.

Cool turkey facts

The turkey is the only North American bird ever domesticated.

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter complaining that the bald eagle was a poor choice for a national symbol. He argued that the turkey, with its habit of fiercely defending its territory, would have made a better choice.

According to oral histories and other historic records, farmers in the 1800s, farmers engaged in “turkey drives:” herding domestic turkeys along country roads to bring them to market, similar in ways to Western ranchers herding cattle. The practice died out in the United States by WW II, but lives on today in some less industrialized countries.

Gary Norman, a Virginia wildlife biologist, is studying turkey gobbles. Working with the National Wild Turkey Federation, he has fitted wild turkeys with backpack transmitters to record when and where turkeys gobble. They want to know if weather, hunting pressure and other factors influence gobbling. This information will help wildlife managers better locate and count turkey populations.


Websites for wattle lovers

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The leading bird research institute in the US, it has information on all American birds.

National Wild Turkey Federation
An organization dedicated to wild turkey conservation and management.

Wild turkey hunting network
This site has LOTS of interesting articles and photos, even for the non-hunter.

Turkey Facts for Kids:
All About Turkeys for kids
The American Turkey

Some poems about turkeys:
Wild Turkeys
Turkeys Observed
Talking Turkeys
Thanksgiving Poetry