Gobble. Gobble. The official bird of Thanksgiving is chock full of surprises. For example, one of the founding fathers of the United States strongly recommended that the turkey replace the eagle as the national bird of the country.
Here are some interesting facts about turkeys; some of which you may already know.
1. THEY SLEEP IN TREES. Because turkeys are so large and heavy – some turkeys weight upwards of 37 pounds (17 kilograms), according to the National Wild Turkey Federation – it is often assumed that these big birds stick to the ground. In fact, turkeys prefer to sleep perched atop tree branches, where they are safe from predators, which include coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. They often sleep in flocks, and upon waking, call out a series of soft yelps before decending to make sure that the rest of their roosting group is okay after a night of not seeing or hearing from one another.
2. FEMALE TURKEYS DON’T GOBBLE. Don’t be disappointed if the turkey at the petting zoo refuses to gobble – it is probably a female. Male turkeys are called gobblers, because they are the only ones that can make that adorable gobbling sound. Each male turkey has its own unique gobbling “technique,” which he combines with strutting to attract potential mates. Female turkeys communicate through clucks and small chirp-like noises.
3. THEY MAKE YOU SLEEPY. If you feel groggy after a old-fashioned Thanksgiving meal, the bird on your plate may be partially to blame. Turkey meat contains tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter to the brain that helps regulate sleep. However, all meat contains tryptophan at comparable levels. Other tryptophan-rich foods include cheese, nuts, and shellfish.
What makes the Thanksgiving meal so memorably tiring is the mix of meat with carbohydrates. Carbs from stuffing, sweet potatoes, bread, pie, and sugary sweets stimulate the release of insulin, which then triggers the uptake of most amino acids – except for tryptophan – from the blood into the muscles. With the other amino acids swept out of the bloodstream, tryptophan does not have to compete with them and is better able to make its way to the brain to help produce serotonin, which then preps you for sleep.
4. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ADORED TURKEYS. Apparently, Benjamin Franklin was a big fan of the humble gobbling bird. According to the Franklin Institute, he wrote in a letter to his daughter:
“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our (the U.S.A.) country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly … like those among men who live by sharking and robbing … he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district … For in truth the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey is peculiar to ours …”
5. WILD TURKEYS CAN FLY. Wild turkeys can fly for short bursts at speeds of up to 55 miles per hours (89 kilometres per hour). However, they aren’t often spotted soaring through the sky because they prefer to feed on the ground, where they peck at grass, seeds, acorns, nuts, berries, and small insects such as grasshoppers.
The myth about turkeys’ inability to fly may stem from the fact that many domestic turkeys , such as the broad-breasted turkey – which is the most widely used breed commercially – cannot fly; they are too weighed down by their own meat. These birds have been selectively bred to be much heavier and possess a larger, broader breast, the weight of which keeps them perpetually grounded.
6. THEY HAVE PERISCOPIC VISION. As many hunters know, a turkey has excellent vision. Because its eyes are on the sides of its head, the turkey has periscopic vision, which allows it to see objects that are not in its direct line of vision. By rotating its head, the turkey has a 360-degree field of vision, according to James G. Dickson’s “The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management” (Stackpole Books, 1992).
7. THEY BLUSH. When a turkey becomes frightened, agitated, excited or ill, the exposed skin on its head and neck can change from its usual pale pink or buish gray color to red, white, or blue. And during mating season, the male turkey’s wattle turns scarlet to reflect his elevated sex hormone levels. The fleshy flap of skin that hangs over the gobbler’s beak is called a snood and also turns bright red when it is excited.
8. THEY HAVE STONES IN THEIR STOMACHS. Here’s one part of the turkey that the kids definitely won’t be fighting over at the Thanksgiving table: A part of the bird’s stomach, called the gizzard, contains tiny stones that the bird has previously swallowed. Also known as gastroliths, these polished stones aid in the breakdown of food for digestion, since birds do not have teeth.