The Long, Surprising Journey of the Domestic Wild Turkey

Hailing from Mexico, these birds traveled abroad before eventually landing back on North American shores.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote.

There’s a rich and interesting history behind America’s favorite holiday bird.

Farmyard turkeys were domesticated from a species called the Wild Turkey, native to the eastern and southwestern states and parts of Mexico.

It’s likely that the Mayans of southern Mexico were the first to domesticate turkeys, maybe 2000 years ago. Early Spanish explorers in the Americas took these domestic birds back with them to Europe, and soon turkeys were gobbling in farm yards over much of the world.

Early European colonists migrating to America’s Atlantic seaboard actually brought domestic turkeys along with them, completing the circle back to America.

By the early 20th century, Wild Turkey numbers had plummeted across much of the continent, due to overhunting and loss of habitat.

But fortunately, game managers stepped in, re-introducing wild-caught birds to areas where turkeys had disappeared. And — thanks to this hard work — since the 1940s, Wild Turkeys have been prospering. There are now Wild Turkeys running… well… wild  in all of the lower 48 states and even Hawaii, far beyond their original range.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

And here’s wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving from the entire BirdNote team!



Gobble of the domestic turkey provided by Martyn Stewart,

Adapted from a script by Frances Wood and Bob Sundstrom​

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie

Editor: Ashley Ahearn

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill

Narrator: Michael Stein

BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2019 BirdNote   November 2012 / 2019

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