10 Fun Facts About the Wild Turkey

Super vision? Flowing beards? Spiral poo? Yeah, there's plenty to talk about when it comes to this American icon.
Wild Turkey. Photo: Melissa James/Audubon Photography Awards

The Wild Turkey might be the most recognizable bird in North America. Of course, a big reason for that is due to its strong association with Thanksgiving, when the birds likeness is omnipresent. But the turkey's large size, impressive plumage, and distinct look make this bird hard to mistake no matter the time of year. Despite so many Americans being familiar with the Wild Turkey, however, folks might be surprised to discover that they know very little about them—and what they think they do know might not be true. Read on for a cornucopia of fun facts about everyone's favorite gobbler.

1.) Turkeys are believed to be named after the country. Linguists theorize that early Europeans were reminded of their African Guinea Fowl back home, which was native to Turkey, and the similarity led to its name. 

2.) There are only two species of Wild Turkey: Ours here in North America and the Ocellated Turkey in Central America. The North American Wild Turkey has five distinct subspecies and also comes in a variety of color morphs. 

3.) Male turkeys can weigh up to 25 pounds, while the average female is around half that weight. Despite this heft and their reputation for being ground dwellers, Wild Turkeys often roost overnight in trees to avoid predators. 

4.)  While they might not look like the fastest birds, Wild Turkeys are surprisingly confident fliers, capable of hitting 60 miles per hour. They are also more agile than they appear. 

5.) Turkeys have excellent eyesight, seeing three times more clearly than 20/20 vision. They can also see in color and have a 270-degree field of vision.  This—along with their generally wary nature—gives them an edge on both predators and hunters. 

6.) Did you know you can discern a turkey’s sex from its droppings? It's true. Male scat is shaped like the letter J, while a female’s droppings are more spiral-shaped. And the bigger the poop, the older the bird. 

7.) Wild Turkey populations plummeted in the 19th century due to overhunting and a loss of habitat, with the species disappearing entirely from New England. Fortunately, Wild Turkey conservation efforts throughout the 20th century led to a sharp rebound throughout their historic range, and now the birds have taken over the Northeast and even some Midwest towns

8.)  Along with their waddles and snoods—the piece of flesh that dangles from the beak—turkeys have another standout feature: beards. The bundle of feathers sprouting from their chest is known as a turkey beard, and it gets longer as the bird ages. While all males have beards, some females also grow them, though why is still a mystery to scientists. 

9.) To debunk a popular turkey tale, Benjamin Franklin did not advocate for the turkey as the National Bird. He also didn't besmirch the Bald Eagle, either. In fact, the letter to his daughter that is often cited as the source of both these "facts" was actually satire. 

10.) The first official presidential turkey pardon was given by George H.W. Bush in 1989, but reports credit many presidents with the tradition,  including Abraham Lincoln, whose son took a liking to the turkey destined for Christmas dinner, and Harry Truman, who was the first to appear in a photo op with a turkey that would later be served.