U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

Say what you will about the history or practice of Thanksgiving, but the turkey is intimately and undeniably tied to the holiday.

While many people are only familiar with one aspect of the turkey (re: taste), the Wild Turkey is an amazingly vigorous and unique bird.

Turkeys roost in trees

The turkey we’re all familiar with is the one that’s bred for its meat, but Wild Turkeys are actually quite agile. That’s why it’s not surprising to find turkeys staying in trees at night or even in the day. Turkeys can fly for short periods of time, which is how they get up there.

Wild turkeys were almost extinct

It’s hard to imagine a world without turkeys, but in the 1930s, that scenario seemed very possible. Only a couple of thousand turkeys roamed the United States in the early 1900s due to hunting, but the species rebounded significantly.

Turkeys now live in every state (except Alaska…maybe)

From the few thousand in the 1930s, turkey populations have exploded across the United States. They are now found in every state but Alaska. I’ve read some reports of Wild Turkeys being spotted in our northernmost state, but it’s probably not enough to confirm.

Adult males are called gobblers or toms

Male turkeys are called gobblers or toms and females are called hens because they only cluck.

Turkeys have excellent vision

Because their eyes are so far apart, turkeys can see 270 degrees without moving and can easily see 360 degrees by turning their necks. It’s also reported that they have superior vision in general and can detect motion from a long ways off.

Benjamin Franklin praised turkeys, but never wanted them to be America’s symbol

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

Yes, this is actually news to me too. Like most people, I grew up believing the story that Ben Franklin loved the turkey so much that he lobbied to make it America’s bird, instead of the Bald Eagle. It wasn’t until I heard Sharon (and Non Birding Bill) Stiteler’s Birdchick podcast this week that I found out this story is actually jumbled.

Franklin did criticize the Bald Eagle and said the turkey is a more respectable bird, but he never said they should have picked the turkey.

You can tell a turkey’s gender by its poop

Here’s another fun fact I learned from the Birdchick. (To be fair, she learned this info from the Smithsonian blog.) I’ve never actually done this, but everything I’ve read says males’ droppings look long and J-shaped while females poop in rounder piles.