turkey strutting

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During Thanksgiving, the wattled bird is the center of attention at the dinner table. There is more to turkeys than meets the eye The turkey is a living dinosaur and is related to the rex. The ocellated turkey, also known as the official bird of Thanksgiving, has an iridescent cousin that lives in Mexico's Yucatn Peninsula.

Live Science looked at the biology, history and folklore of the harvest celebration. We want you to enjoy turkey science with your holiday meal.

1. They sport beards

A turkey with a beard during breeding season.

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The centerpiece of many Thanksgiving tables used to have beards. Sort of. The hairlike bristles that grow from the chests of male turkeys and some hens are actually specialized feathers. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, they can be lengthy, with some beards touching the ground.

The Game Commission says that of the 10% of turkeys with multiple beards, most have just two.


Scientists don't know what the purpose of the filoplumes is, but they could be used to send information to birds.

Artwork by Scott Hartman reveals the bone structure of T. rex.

Artwork by Scott Hartman reveals the bone structure of T. rex. (Image credit: © Scott Hartman / All rights reserved)

The wishbone of a turkey is formed by the fusion of its two collarbones. The bone is the connecting point for muscles and a brace. During the bird's flapping, the wishbone acts as a spring to store and release energy. It's tough to snap a wishbone before it dries. The wishbone is more than a game for Turkey Day; it's a reminder that birds evolved from a group of dinosaurs. The wishbone from theropods, a group of meat-eating dinosaurs, is more than 150 million years old.

3. They sleep in trees

turkey by trees

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It's assumed that turkeys stick to the ground because of their large size and heavy weight. Turkeys prefer to sleep atop tree branches where they are safe from coyotes and other animals. After a night of not seeing or hearing one another, they call out a series of soft yelps before descending to make sure the rest of their roosting group is ok.

4. Female turkeys don't gobble

male & female turkeys

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If the turkey at the petting zoo doesn't want to eat, it's probably a female and not a male. The only turkeys that can make that cute gobbling sound are males. Each turkey has a unique gobbling technique that he combines with strutting to attract mates. Female turkeys communicate through their clucks and chirps.

5. They make you sleepy?

Thanksgiving turkey dinner

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It's possible that the bird on your plate may have made you sleepy after Thanksgiving. Turkey meat has a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates sleep. All meat contains the same amount of the brain chemical. Almonds, nuts, and cheese are high in tryptophan. The Thanksgiving meal is so tiring because of the mix of meat andCarbohydrates Most of the amino acids are taken from the blood into the muscles by the release ofinsulin, which is stimulated by the intake of sugars. With the other amino acids out of the bloodstream, it's easier for tryptophan to make its way to the brain and help you sleep.

6. Franklin adored turkeys?

ben franklin portrait

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Ever since Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter extolling the virtues of the turkey, people have speculated that he preferred the bald eagle as the United States' national symbol and mascot.

It might have been a joke.

It's difficult to say what Franklin was thinking about, but he may have been poking fun at the U.S. trend of making national things. It is possible that Franklin was mocking the hereditary membership requirements of the Society of the Cincinnati by writing the letter as satire.

Franklin didn't say that the turkey should be the nation's bird. He compared the turkey to a bird.

7. Wild turkeys can fly

Wild turkey chick spreading wings

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A wild turkey can fly at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. They are terrible fliers because their wings are too small and their flight muscles are too large, making it hard for them to launch into the air.

Turkeys like to eat on the ground where they can find seeds, nuts, and small insects. Many turkeys, like the broad-breasted white turkey, can't fly because they're too heavy to fly. The weight of which keeps them grounded is due to the fact that these birds have been bred to be much heavier.

8. They have periscopic vision

turkey looking around with chicks

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A turkey has good vision. The turkey has periscopic vision because its eyes are on the side of its head. By rotating its head, the turkey has a better field of vision.

9. They blush

colorful turkey

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When a turkey becomes frightened, agitated, excited or ill, the exposed skin on its head and neck can change from pale pink or bluish gray to red, white, or blue. The male turkey's wattle becomes scarlet to show his elevated sex hormones. When the bird is excited, the snood on the gobbler's beak becomes bright red.

10. They have stones in their stomachs

turkey hen feeding

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There is a part of the turkey that the kids won't be fighting over at the Thanksgiving table. Since birds don't have teeth, these polished stones help in the breakdown of food for digestion.

The first of the two stomachs is called the glandular stomach, and it is where food is broken down.

The first edition was published on Nov. 23, 2015, and the second edition was published on Nov. 23, 2022.