1. There are a number of explanations for the origin of the name of Thanksgiving’s favorite dinner guest. Some believe Christopher Columbus thought that the land he discovered was connected to India, and believed the bird he discovered (the turkey) was a type of peacock. He therefore called it ‘tuka,’ which is ‘peacock’ in Tamil, an Indian language.
The Native American name for turkey is ‘firkee’; some say this is how turkeys got their name.
Simple facts, however, sometimes produce the best answers—when a turkey is scared, it makes a “turk, turk, turk” noise.
2. At one time, the turkey and the bald eagle were each considered as the national symbol of America. Benjamin Franklin was one of those who argued passionately on behalf of the turkey. Franklin felt the turkey, although “vain and silly”, was a better choice than the bald eagle, whom he felt was “a coward”.
3. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving.
4. Age is a determining factor in taste. Old, large males are preferable to young toms (males) as tom meat is stringy. The opposite is true for females: old hens are tougher birds.
5. A turkey under sixteen weeks of age is called a fryer, while a young roaster is five to seven months old.
6. Turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears. They can also see in color, and have excellent visual acuity and a wide field of vision (about 270 degrees), which makes sneaking up on them difficult.
7. Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys, however, can fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. They can also reach speeds of 25 miles per hour on the ground.
8. Turkeys sometimes spend the night in trees.
9. Turkeys can have heart attacks: turkeys in fields near the Air Force test areas over which the sound barrier was broken were known to drop dead from the shock of passing jets.
10. The ballroom dance known as the Turkey Trot was named for the short, jerky steps a turkey makes.
11. Each year the President of the United States pardons a turkey before Thanksgiving at a White House ceremony. The tradition’s origin is uncertain. One story claims that Harry Truman pardoned a turkey in 1947, but the Truman Library has been unable to find any evidence for this. Another claims that the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son Tad’s pet turkey. Both of these stories have been cited in recent presidential speeches. On Tuesday, November 20, 2007, President Bush gave two turkeys named May and Flower a last-minute reprieve.
12. That fleshlike appendage that hangs from a turkey’s neck is called the wattle. It can grow to great size, and is extremely elastic.
13. Cooked turkey is good for about 3 or 4 days, while gravy and stuffing only make it for 1 or 2 days. Frozen turkey will keep for 4 to 6 months. The less resilient gravy and stuffing are only good for about a month after freezing.