Temporal range: Early Miocene to Recent
|Male wild turkey from California|
The turkey is a large bird in the genus Meleagris, which is native to the Americas. One species, Meleagris gallopavo (commonly known as the wild turkey or domestic turkey), is native to the forests of North America, mainly Mexico and the United States. The other living species is Meleagris ocellata or the ocellated turkey, native to the forests of the Yucatán Peninsula. Males of both turkey species have a distinctive fleshy wattle or protuberance that hangs from the top of the beak (called a snood). They are among the largest birds in their ranges. As in many galliformes, the male is larger and much more colorful than the female.
Turkeys are classed in the family of Phasianidae (pheasants, partridges, francolins, junglefowl, grouse and relatives) in the taxonomic order of Galliformes. The genus Meleagris is the only genus in the subfamily Meleagridinae, formerly known as the family Meleagrididae but now subsumed within the family Phasianidae.
History and naming
When Europeans first encountered turkeys in America, they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guineafowl – i.e., as members of a group of birds which were thought to typically come from the country of Turkey. The name of the North American bird thus became "turkey fowl", which was then shortened to just "turkey". In 1550, the English navigator William Strickland, who had introduced the turkey into England, was granted a coat of arms including a "turkey-cock in his pride proper".
The confusion between these kinds of birds from related but different families is also reflected in the scientific name for the turkey genus: meleagris (μελεαγρίς) is Greek for guineafowl. Two major reasons why the name "turkey fowl" stuck to Meleagris rather than to the Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris), were (a) the belief that the newly discovered America was a part of Asia, and (b) the tendency during that time of attributing exotic animals and foods to places that symbolized far-off, exotic lands.
In many countries, the names for turkeys have different derivations.
Several other birds that are sometimes called turkeys are not particularly closely related: the brushturkeys are megapodes, and the bird sometimes known as the "Australian turkey" is the Australian bustard (Ardeotis australis). The anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) is sometimes called a water turkey, from the shape of its tail when the feathers are fully spread for drying.
A number of turkeys have been described from fossils. The Meleagridinae are known from the Early Miocene (c. 23 mya) onwards, with the extinct genera Rhegminornis (Early Miocene of Bell, U.S.) and Proagriocharis (Kimball Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Lime Creek, U.S.). The former is probably a basal turkey, the other a more contemporary bird not very similar to known turkeys; both were much smaller birds. A turkey fossil not assignable to genus but similar to Meleagris is known from the Late Miocene of Westmoreland County, Virginia. In the modern genus Meleagris, a considerable number of species have been described, as turkey fossils are robust and fairly often found, and turkeys show great variation among individuals. Many of these supposed fossilized species are now considered junior synonyms. One, the well-documented California turkey Meleagris californica, became extinct recently enough to have been hunted by early human settlers. It is believed its demise was due to the combined pressures of climate change at the end of the last glacial period and hunting.
- Meleagris sp. (Early Pliocene of Bone Valley, U.S.)
- Meleagris sp. (Late Pliocene of Macasphalt Shell Pit, U.S.)
- Meleagris californica (Late Pleistocene of SW U.S.)—formerly Parapavo/Pavo
- Meleagris crassipes (Late Pleistocene of SW North America)
- Donald Stanley Farner and James R. King (1971). Avian biology. Boston: Academic Press.
- Crowe, Timothy M.; Bloomer, Paulette; Randi, Ettore; Lucchini, Vittorio; Kimball, Rebecca T.; Braun, Edward L. & Groth, Jeffrey G. (2006a): Supra-generic cladistics of landfowl (Order Galliformes). Acta Zoologica Sinica 52(Supplement): 358–361. PDF fulltext
- Webster's II New College Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2005, ISBN 978-0-618-39601-6, p. 1217
- Andrew F. Smith: The Turkey: An American Story. University of Illinois Press 2006, ISBN 978-0-252-03163-2, p. 17
- "Why A Turkey Is Called A Turkey : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR". npr.org. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
- Bruce Thomas Boehrer (2011). Animal characters: nonhuman beings in early modern literature p.141. University of Pennsylvania Press
- Formerly Parapavo californica and initially described as Pavo californica or "California peacock"
- Jack Broughton (1999). Resource depression and intensification during the late Holocene, San Francisco Bay: evidence from the Emeryville Shellmound vertebrate fauna. Berkeley: University of California Press. ; lay summary
- Bochenski, Z. M., and K. E. Campbell, Jr. 2006. The extinct California Turkey, Meleagris californica, from Rancho La Brea: Comparative osteology and systematics. Contributions in Science, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Number 509:92 pp.
- Jan, K.; Andreas, M.; Gennady, C.; Andrej, K.; Gerald, M.; Jürgen, B.; Jürgen, S. (2007). "Waves of genomic hitchhikers shed light on the evolution of gamebirds (Aves: Galliformes)". BMC Evolutionary Biology 7: 190.
- Dalloul, R. A.; Long, J. A.; Zimin, A. V.; Aslam, L.; Beal, K.; Blomberg Le, L.; Bouffard, P.; Burt, D. W.; Crasta, O.; Crooijmans, R. P.; Cooper, K.; Coulombe, R. A.; De, S.; Delany, M. E.; Dodgson, J. B.; Dong, J. J.; Evans, C.; Frederickson, K. M.; Flicek, P.; Florea, L.; Folkerts, O.; Groenen, M. A.; Harkins, T. T.; Herrero, J.; Hoffmann, S.; Megens, H. J.; Jiang, A.; De Jong, P.; Kaiser, P.; Kim, H. (2010). Roberts, Richard J, ed. "Multi-Platform Next-Generation Sequencing of the Domestic Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo): Genome Assembly and Analysis". PLoS Biology 8 (9): e1000475.
- Madge and McGowan. Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse. ISBN 0-7136-3966-0.
- National Geographic Society (2002). Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-6877-6.
- Porter, W. F. (1994). "Family Meleagrididae (Turkeys)". In del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 2. New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 364–375. ISBN 84-87334-15-6.
- Shore, Randy (3 February 2010). "B.C. researchers carve into today's turkeys through DNA tracking". The Montréal Gazette (Canwest News Service).