Domesticated Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo

Although I mostly remember chickens in my grandmother’s coop, I definitely also remember these unfriendly buggers – turkeys. I never understood why she kept them. They are not beautiful like peacocks, we didn’t eat their eggs and I cannot remember a Christmas turkey either. Unfortunately I can’t ask my grandmother now.

Turkeys are odd birds. Well, that is my humble opinion anyway. The males strut all day long posing to anything female and the females always seem to ignore the males just pecking for food.

Apparently the domesticated turkey is descended from the wild turkey and was domesticated by the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica (Mexico) at least 2,000 years ago. (Which makes me wonder if any true wild turkeys are left?)

Turkeys are mainly kept for their meat though I have yet to taste it. (Turkey meat is not traditional in Namibia and who would settle for a turkey drumstick instead of a game steak?) And here are some interesting facts. In the US, males are referred to as toms while in Europe they are known as stags… The females are called hens while the chicks are called poults or turkeylings. In Afrikaans, we call them kalkoen-mannetjie (turkey male) and kalkoen-wyfie (turkey female). Much easier if you ask me! The English name is the result of an early misidentification of the bird with an unrelated species which was imported to Europe through the country of Turkey. Furthermore, turkeys can live up to ten years when domesticated. (Isn’t that fairly short for a bird that big and domesticated?)

Then I found this info on the behaviour of turkeys which proofs my point; turkeys are odd. Young turkeys will fly readily to perch and roost but as they become older they will mostly settle on the ground. Young birds will frolic which has the appearance of play. As turkeys are very sociable, they will become very distressed when isolated. In fact, they are so sociable that when one bird exhibits a new behaviour, chances are the rest of the birds will mimic and soon the whole flock will have adopted the new behaviour. They even ‘recognise’ a newcomer and such a bird will be attacked (sometimes fatally) by an established group. (No new friends for these guys!)

Being this social, also makes turkeys highly vocal. A high-pitched trill can indicate the birds becoming very aggressive. Aggression will further increase in frequency and severity as the birds mature. (Who needs turkeys with teenagers in the house?) Maturing males will display sexually a considerable portion of their time. This involves the fanning of the tail feathers, drooping the wings and erecting all body feathers. (Very much like the one in the photo…) The fleshy modules on the male will become bright blue and red, while the male will also start to sneeze at regular intervals. (Definitely won’t work for me – I prefer healthy, non-sneezing males). Throughout all this, the bird will strut slowly about emitting the characteristic “gobbling” call.

I have to admit, reading and writing all this, have definitely made me realise the similar behaviour of teenage boys and male turkeys… ‘slow strutting’, ‘erecting all body feathers’ and making strange ‘gobbling’ sounds…

Domesticated Male Turkey

Domesticated Male Turkey

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