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FAQ

Question of the Week

Q. Where did the domestic turkey come from?

A. Domestic turkeys come from the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), a species that is native only to the Americas. In the 1500s, Spanish traders brought some that had been domesticated by indigenous Americans to Europe and Asia. The bird reportedly got its common name because it reached European tables through shipping routes that passed through Turkey. On a continent where fine dining still included eating storks, herons, and bustards, the meaty, succulent turkey was a sensation.

Later on, when English settlers came to America, they were amazed to find the same birds running wild and free, and tasting really good thanks to their natural diet of chestnuts, beechnuts, walnuts, and other native mast. That is probably one of the reasons Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to serve as our national emblem—it's a beautiful, genuinely American bird that tastes wonderful and had enormous economic value for the colonists.

The Wild Turkey is one of just two species of turkey in the world. The other is the Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata) of Mexico and Central America. This turkey is has iridescent plumage of blue, green, and bronze, and a featherless powder-blue head speckled with red and orange fleshy nodules. Males possess a unique cap-like crown that enlarges during breeding season. They make a whistling noise instead of the clucks and gobbles of the Wild Turkey.  

Read more at our Wild Turkey page, or at this Smithsonian page, The Eat-ymology of the Turkey.

Past Questions of the Week

Q. I thought geese migrated south in the winter and north in the summer. Why did I just see a flock of Canada Geese flying in the "wrong" direction?

Q. Why do migratory birds crash into buildings at night and how can people prevent it from happening?

Q. Where can I go to watch hawk migration?

Q. How do birds prepare for long migrations?

Q. Should I stop feeding birds in fall so they can start their migration?

Q. What is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

Q. After birds leave a nest, can I clean out the nest for future use?

Q. How can I keep birds from hitting my windows?

Q. Why do woodpeckers like to hammer on houses?

Q. I’m seeing fewer birds in my yard. Is something affecting their populations?

Q. I found a baby bird. What should I do?

Q. I found a nest near my house and want to observe it but I am worried about disturbing it. Can you give me any advice?

Q. Sometimes I see little birds going after a big bird. Why do they do this?

Q. My feeders are being overrun with pigeons and blackbirds who eat all the food and keep the smaller birds away. What can I do?

Q. How can I share my bird photos with the Lab?

Q. How do I keep the squirrels in my yard away from my feeders and bird seed?

Q. Where can I go to watch hawk migration?

Q. Should I stop feeding hummingbirds in the fall so that they will migrate?

Q. After birds leave a nest, can I clean out the nest for future use?

Q. I live in a high-rise apartment with a tiny balcony. Is there any way I can attract birds all the way up on the 17th floor?

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