Turkey (bird)

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A turkey is a large bird. There are wild and domestic varieties.

The naming of turkeys is a little bit confusing because it is one of the rare instances where using a biological name is not enough to clarify the animal of which we are speaking. The species name for the domestic turkey is Meleagris gallopavo, but this is also the biological name of the wild bird from which it was developed, the wild turkey. To further complicate matters, another species, the ocellated turkey, Meleagris ocellata, was also domesticated, but descendants of these birds are no longer used as poultry.

In addition, there are other birds commonly called or nicknamed ‘turkey’ which are not related to meleagris. These include the bush turkey and the brush turkey.

Turkeys have several claims to fame, one being that Benjamin Franklin felt that they should have been the US national bird instead of the Bald Eagle. Writing to his daughter, Sarah Bache, he said:

I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representation of our Country; he is a Bird of bad moral Character, like those among men who live by sharpening and robbing; he is generally poor and often very lonely.... The turkey is... a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original Native of America[1]

Domestic turkeys are a staple of the turkey dinner, which is a standard celebratory or feast in the West for such holidays as Christmas and also, in the US, Thanksgiving.


  1. The American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking, Vol. 2, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1964, page 482