Living With Animals: Get the facts, turkey!

Ken White, Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA

November 17, 2017
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It’s estimated that this Thursday we will eat 46,000,000 turkeys. Great gobbling giblets, that’s a lot of birds! It seems only right that we ought to know a little bit about who we’re eating in such mass numbers. Following, just for the heck of it, are some completely random turkey facts.

The turkey who gets eaten obviously did not get her wish, but that wishbone has other more practical uses. Formed of two fused collarbones it adds considerable spring to wing muscles. Often thought flightless (sadly true for factory farmed turkeys), this adaptation helps turkeys fly at speeds up to 55 mph (turkeys can also run 25 mph). Not only are they capable of flight, even the largest of wild turkeys (up to 40 pounds) sleeps perched high in trees. Despite these abilities, wild turkeys were hunted almost to extinction, with only 30,000 birds once surviving (that equals 6% of the number we’ll eat this week). Many suburban residents are aware of a rather amazing comeback.

Turkeys are omnivores, their diet including acorns, nuts, seeds, grasses, snakes, bugs and lizards. They’re even known to visit bird feeders (which must be quite a sight!). Switching the lens from predator to prey, it’s actually not the tryptophan in turkey which causes diners to feel sleepy. In fact, all meat contains about the same level of tryptophan. It is the mix of meat and carbs (stuffing, sweet potato, pie) which triggers a complex reaction leading to the post-meal nap. 

Ben Franklin wrote to his daughter: “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral character…. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” Had Franklin gotten his way, we’d see turkeys on our national seal and you’d be eating meatloaf on Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving!