The skinny on snoods, wattles and wishbones

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But after decades of restocking the population, there are now about seven million wild turkeys in North America.

The turkey is a variety of pheasant. Archaeological evidence suggests turkeys roamed North America as far back as 10 million years ago. Native Americans domesticated them about 2,000 years ago.

A male turkey is called a “tom” and a female turkey a “hen.” A large group of turkeys is called a “flock.”

Wild turkeys are found in hardwood forests with grassy areas. They spend the night in trees. They have excellent vision and hearing but don’t see well at night. They can fly short distances at speeds of up to 90 km/h and can run at speeds of up to 40 km/h.

Domesticated turkeys do not fly — because of selective breeding — and aren’t likely to run very much, either. By the time the average turkey is ready for your table, it has been so fattened up at the factory farm that it has as much chance of achieving flight as you do.

It takes 17 to 20 weeks to raise a turkey that weighs 10.8 kilograms or more. That bird will have consumed around 30 kilograms of feed while it was alive.

Canada is one of the world’s biggest producers of turkeys. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian farmers produced 180,000 tonnes of turkey in 2008. That’s an increase of 6.5 per cent from the previous year.

Canadian consumption of turkey has remained relatively stable over the past two decades — at around 2.2 kilograms per person per year. However, production has increased substantially as Canadian turkey exports have grown by 30 per cent since 2001.

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The top turkey-eating country in the world is Israel, at 11.5 kg per person every year. Here’s how other countries measure up, per person per year:

  • United States: 7.7 kg.
  • France: 5.9 kg.
  • United Kingdom: 4.8 kg.
  • European Union: 4.0 kg.

Why is this type of poultry called ‘turkey’?

There are several theories:

  • The Native American name for turkey is “firkee.”
  • The wild turkey’s call sounds like “turk-turk-turk.”
  • Christopher Columbus named them “titka,” which is the word for peacock in the Tamil language of India. Columbus thought the New World was connected to India.

Why do turkeys gobble?

Male turkeys gobble; hens make a clicking sound. The gobble is a seasonal call for the males. They also gobble when they hear loud noises and when they settle in for the night.

What are those fleshy things on turkey heads?

Are there different breeds?

Common domesticated breeds include: Bronze, Broad Breasted Bronze, Broad Breasted Large White, Black, Bourbon Red, White Holland, Narragansett and Beltsville Small White.

Why does turkey have white and dark meat?

For the same reason that chicken does: the legs and thighs contain dark meat because the muscles are more heavily exercised from walking and contain more fat than the meat that comes from the breast. White meat has less oxygen-carrying myoglobin than dark meat. The more work a muscle does — whether you’re a bird or a person — the more oxygen it needs.

What’s with the wishbone? Does it serve a purpose?

The superstition goes that when you find a wishbone, two people should each grasp one part of the wishbone pull; whoever is holding the longest part when it breaks will have their wish come true.

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For turkeys — at least the ones who spend their life in the wild — the wishbone, which is called the furcula, is key to strengthening their skeleton to withstand the rigors of flight. It’s formed by the fusion of the two clavicles at the sternum.

The bone is elastic, allowing it to act as a spring that stores and releases energy during flight.

Why can’t I buy turkey eggs at the supermarket?

Turkeys also tend to be far more protective of their eggs than chickens. They’ll stay with them until they hatch and do what they can to keep you away from them.

Why do I feel sleepy after eating turkey?

Probably because you’ve had too much of it, combined with too much dessert and maybe too much of other stuff as well.

Yes, turkey contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which the human body needs to build certain proteins. The body uses L-tryptophan to make serotonin, which has a tranquilizing effect.

However, many foods contain the same amino acid — and in much greater quantities than turkey. Ever feel sleepy after eating raw soybeans? Maybe you should. They contain more than twice the levels of L-tryptophan than turkey does.

What’s with the cranberry sauce and stuffing?

It’s believed Native Americans taught the colonialists how to cook cranberries and different kinds of corn, squash and pumpkin dishes.

The origins of stuffing are not certain. Some experts say it’s a traditional dish made from bread and vegetables and most probably originated in Eastern Europe.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>