Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Turkey (bird)

Wild Turkey
Scientific classification
 Meleagris gallopavo
 Meleagris ocellata

A turkey is either of two species of large birds in the gamebird family with fan-shaped tails and wattled necks. They are commonly domesticated and used for poultry.

The species are the North American Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and the Central American Ocellated Turkey (Agriocharis ocellata).

Although the domesticated turkey has been deemed foolish and easily confused, the Wild Turkey is a game animal of considerable cunning. With its wingspan of 5 feet (1.8 metres), this turkey is also by far the largest bird in the open forests in which it lives, and is rarely mistaken for any other.

As with many galliform species, the female is smaller than the male, and less colourful. It has been speculated that the Central American species is more tractable than its northern counterpart, and was the source of the present domesticated stock.

When Europeans first encountered the turkey in the Americas, they incorrectly identified it with the African Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris), also known as the turkey-cock from its importation to Europe through Turkey, and the name stuck. It remains also in the scientific name: meleagris is Greek for guinea-fowl.

This group is related to other members of the gamebird family as follows.

Ocellated Turkey
Several other birds which are sometimes called turkeys are not particularly closely related: the Australan Brush-turkey is a megapode, and the bird sometimes known as the Australian Turkey is in fact the Australian Bustard, a gruiform.

See also: Turkey (domesticated), cooking a turkey