| Common turkey|
|Species|| M. gallopavo|
Turkey is the name given to two species of North American bird, the common turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) of Mexico, the eastern United States and Canada, and the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) of Central America. Of the two, the common turkey is classed as a game bird and hunted seasonally, as well as being the only wild bird successfully domesticated by man in the Western Hemisphere.
The common turkey is a large bird, with males (called "toms" or "gobblers") up to 50 inches long and weighing up to 22 pounds. They bear iridescent dark bronze and green feathers, a large feather tassel on its breast, and a warty, red head with a fleshy ornament extending over the bill. Females ("hens") are a fader shade of brown, and about half the size of the males. The domesticated variety is commonly white, and being bred for its meat, considerably heavier.
Ocellated turkeys are smaller than their northern counterparts, with brightly-tipped feathers and blue-skinned heads with yellow bumps, as well as a yellow crown above its bill wattle.
A Mexican subspecies (M. g. gallopavo) was first domesticated by pre-Aztec people, who had started penning the birds around 800 B.C. According to studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the turkey was first domesticated for their feathers, which were used as adornment or in ceremonies and rituals; this in turn was copied by the Anasazi in what is now the southwestern United States around 800 B.C. It was around 1100 A.D. that the birds were first used as an important food source by ancestors of the present-day Pueblos. Europeans first saw the domesticated turkey when the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519, and a short time later a number of these bird were taken to Europe, where they spread to farms throughout much of the continent. It was the English who brought back their domesticated version to the American colonies in the early-17th century, where they eventually became a staple of the diet, and the symbol of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The name "turkey" was first applied to the bird in England, a transliteration of the name then applied to the guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) of Islamic, or "Turkish," lands in northern Africa.
- Chicken, Ducks, Goose
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- Wild turkey at eNature.com