Perhaps the country’s most famous bird expert, John James Audubon (the inspiration for the National Audubon Society), called turkeys “one of the most interesting of the birds indigenous to the United States of America.” After you read these impressive facts about them, we think you’ll agree.
Here are 16 cool things you probably didn’t know about turkeys:
- Ben Franklin hinted that the turkey, not the bald eagle, should be the U.S. national bird. This founding father called the turkey “a much more respectable bird.”
- The first unofficial presidential turkey pardon reportedly came from President Abraham Lincoln. History has it that his son came to respect and care about the bird who was being raised for the family’s Thanksgiving table and couldn’t bear to see him or her killed.
- Turkeys are fast. The birds are robbed of their natural athletic abilities when farms genetically manipulate them to grow much fatter than they ever would in nature. But wild turkeys can run as fast as 35 miles an hour and can fly as fast as 55 miles an hour.
- They came to get down. Turkeys enjoy listening to music and often loudly sing along.
- They’re original. Turkeys’ personalities are as varied and distinct as those of humans.
- Think your 20/20 vision is perfect? Turkeys see three times more clearly than you do. They also have a 270-degree field of vision.
- Turkeys like to look their best. When they’re not being forced to live in filth on farms, they like to groom their feathers with dust baths and preening.
- Sherlock Holmes has nothing on them. People who care for turkeys at sanctuaries often call them “natural detectives.” They are extremely curious and are always checking out interesting sights, sounds, and visitors.
- They love their babies, too. OK, this one shouldn’t really be a surprise, but these gentle birds are very bonded to their young. In nature, mother turkeys courageously defend their families against predators.
- They choose their favorite humans. Erik Marcus, the author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, spent a considerable amount of time with turkeys on farm sanctuaries. He found that “[t]urkeys remember your face and they will sit closer to you with each day you revisit. Come back day after day and, before long, a few birds will pick you out as their favorite and they will come running up to you whenever you arrive. It’s definitely a matter of the birds choosing you rather than of you choosing the birds. Different birds choose different people.”
- They play together. One scientist found that when he threw a group of turkeys an apple, they played with it like a ball.
- They make a purring sound much like cats do.
- “Whose snood is longer?” Since a long snood (the appendage on a male turkey’s face) is associated with good health, female turkeys prefer a longer snood. When two males are competing for a female’s attention, the dude with the longer snood is usually the winner.
- They blush. Just like humans, when turkeys are agitated, excited, or sick, the skin on their heads and necks can change colors. (Perhaps females blush during the “whose snood is longer” contests?)
- They do a roll call in the mornings. In nature, turkeys like to sleep in trees with their extended family flocks to keep everyone safe from predators. When they start to wake up in the morning, one turkey will call out a series of soft yelps to make sure that the rest of the group is OK since they haven’t spoken to one another for a while.
- Turkeys are friends, not food. This year, why not try decorating your Thanksgiving table with a beautiful, tasty vegan turkey or roast and keeping the holidays festive for everyone?