These days, most of the turkeys people gobble down are fattened up on farms. They’re only pale (under their feathers) imitations of the lean, mean turkeys roaming through the woods of North America. Regardless of the kind of turkey you’re planning on serving for dinner this year (domestic or wild), you might like to read about interesting turkey facts you probably weren't aware of, and perhaps gain some new respect for the food on your plate. Or at least have something to talk about at the dinner table.

Turkeys Are Faster Than You Think

Often, when folks picture a turkey, they think about a plump and round butterball, like the kind they find pre-wrapped for them in their local supermarkets. While farm-bred turkeys don’t usually conjure up images of speed and agility, wild turkeys are in fact pretty darn fast, both on land and in the air. A turkey can run as fast as 25 miles per hour on the ground, and when in flight reach speeds of about 55 miles per hour, which comes in handy when trying to elude predators.

Domesticated Turkeys Come From Mexico


Turkeys are from the Americas, and they've been roaming the forests and woodlands here for thousands of years. Of course, most people associate these extremely large birds with the very American tradition of Thanksgiving, but the domesticated turkey's roots can be traced back to ancient Mexico. Archeological information suggests that the Aztecs and Mayans were the first peoples to tame and raise these birds in and near their homes. When the Spanish arrived in the New World, they found domesticated turkeys in Mexico and in the American Southwest. They must have developed a taste for the bird, because they eventually took the “American” turkey back to Europe.

Turkeys Go by Several Different Names


Here you thought a turkey was just a turkey. People who spend a lot of time with the birds know better. Turkeys were mostly likely named for the country of Turkey, because the fowl reminded some of the first Europeans to set foot in the Americas of a similar looking bird back home. When it comes to specific turkey names, you can refer to adult males as “toms” and females as “hens.” Adolescent birds are called “jakes.” When turkeys are very young, they’re known as “poults.” And they take it really personally if you get it wrong. (Not really.)

Wild Turkeys Roost in Trees

Turkeys spend most of their time on the ground, searching for food. They tend to feed from dawn until late morning, and then they take a break (eating and searching for food is a lot of hard work). In the midafternoon, they start eating again. Once the sun is begins to set, they fly up into a trees and roost there until the first light of day. Then they eat some more. Since turkeys don’t have great night vision, trees offer shelter from predators, and a comfortable place to sleep the night away.

Turkeys Have Heart Attacks

As if turkeys didn’t have enough problems, what with people, foxes, wolves, and pretty much any midsize to large carnivore interested in an easy meal hunting them down, these sizable birds also suffer from heart attacks. You would think that an adult turkey, on a farm or in the wild, would know how to deal with stress, but apparently they can die from a cardiac infarction. For example the sonic boom from the Air Force test-flying planes was too much for the turkeys flown over, and they simply collapsed and died from heart attacks.

Wild Turkeys Know How To Fly, But Prefer The Ground

Marc Serota, Getty Images

As we’ve already learned, turkeys know how to fly, despite the commonly held myth that they are flightless birds. Not only can they fly, they can fly pretty fast, although they can only sustain their top speed of 55 miles per hour for a limited amount of time. Even though they can take to the air, their fondness for the earth has caused them a lot of trouble over the years, because it has made them easy pickings for hunters.

28 Days Later (Turkey Eggs)

For fans of the bloody zombie flick 28 Days Later, and its equally gory sequel 28 Weeks Later, you might find it oddly curious that the same number of days apply to the incubation and hatching period for turkey eggs. It takes about 28 days for a turkey egg to hatch, although all you’ll end up with in the end is a little bird (poult) –– not an "undead" turkey ready to gorge on your brains.

Why Turkey Meat Makes You Sleepy

Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People usually get pretty sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. Uncontrollable napping is often induced by the sheer amount of food consumed, as well as a naturally occurring chemical called L-tryptophan, which can be found in turkey meat, as well as other poultry. This chemical, combined with the other goodies you stuff into your stomach on Thanksgiving Day, makes it a sure bet that you’ll want to catch a few winks while your body is busy dealing with what you've just done to it.

Wild Turkeys Have Superb Hearing and Daylight Vision

Cate Gillon, Getty Images

Turkeys have poor night vision, but during the day, they see much better than human beings. With a 270-degree field of vision, they can take in large swaths of forestland. They can be on the alert for predators, while searching for sources of food at the same time. How’s that for multitasking? In addition to their impressive optical capacities, turkeys can brag about their excellent hearing. Or they could, if they could talk.

Benjamin Franklin Lobbied For Turkey To Become The National Bird

Public Domain (Smithsonian Institution), Wiki Commons

It’s true. Benjamin Franklin thought turkeys would make for a much better national bird than the bald eagle. Mr. Franklin believed bald eagles were really cowards at heart, and therefore made for a poor choice of animal when representing the nation. In the end, the patriot and inventor didn’t get his way. The bald eagle became part of the national seal, even though Franklin had argued that the turkey possessed a higher “moral” character. Although Benjamin Franklin really wasn't one to be passing moral judgments.