Turkey’s History

     The Turkey, either of two species of large birds which are native to the Americas. The first species is the Common Turkey which is domesticated globally almost everywhere nowadays, and it is native to the forests of North America, mainly Mexico and the United States. The second species is the Ocellated Turkey which is native to the forests of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Male  turkeys of both species have a distinctive fleshy wattle  that hangs from the top of the beak (called a snood).

     The Common Turkey has a fleshy wattle growing from the throat and a tuft of coarse black, hairlike feathers (known as a beard) projecting from the breast. While the Ocellated Turkey is smaller and doesn’t have the characteristic fleshy wattle or the projecting hairlike breast feathers. In general, the turkey is among the largest birds in its range, and as many other types of birds, the male (Tom or Stag) is larger and much more colorful than the female (Hen).

     Turkey’s domestication probably began by the Indians of Pre-Columbian Mexico who lived there long time ago. When the Spaniards came, they took the turkey with them to Spain and from there it spread across Europe. Turkeys came to England via merchant ships from the Middle East where they were domesticated successfully. These merchants were called “Turkey merchants” as much of the area was part of the Ottoman Empire. Hence the name “Turkey birds” or, soon thereafter, “Turkeys” came.


Turkey’s Characteristics

     The turkey has a unique color pattern and most Common Turkeys show bronze colors, but from time to time recessive colors appear in wild flocks. Breeders’ selection while domestication for these recessive colors has yielded the color-verities we see today. The Turkey is also well-known with its unique mating dances. In courtship display the male spreads his tail, droops his wings and shakes the quills audibly. He assembles a harem, and each hen lays 8–15 pale buff and brownish spotted eggs in a hollow in the ground. The hen incubates the eggs for almost 28 days and raise the young (Poults) alone. Poults usually take around 6 to 7 months to reach sexual maturity, which is the time they will start laying eggs themselves.

     The turkey mostly eats plant materials, including many acorns, leaves, seeds, grains, berries and buds. It also eats insects, frogs and small lizards. Roast turkey in many European countries has long been a customary Christmas dish. In the United States the bird is especially associated with the holiday of Thanksgiving. Turkeys are usually farmed for their rich taste meat, eggs and feathers and they grow up to 10 kg (commercial strains usually are much heavier).


Wild Turkeys
Wild turkeys by Don DeBold
Domestic turkeys
Stags' courtship display
The Ocellated Turkey
The Ocellated turkey by David Creswell