A Little Bit About Turkeys

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As we end the Thanksgiving weekend and start moving into Christmas, let us reflect a moment on the humble turkey. We mostly know of turkey as standard holiday fare and less as an actual bird (unless you live on or grew up on a farm, in which case turkeys probably represent chores). How did this boring looking, ordinary bird become so prominent in our national holidays?

We do not know if the Pilgrims had turkey on their first Thanksgiving. There is some record of what they had, but as far as birds go, all we know is that they had some. What it was specifically is not known.i However, it is certainly possible that turkey was on the menu. Turkeys are an exclusively North American bird, so unlike in their original European homeland, the Pilgrims actually could hunt turkeys. 

As mentioned previously, turkeys are often found on farms. In fact, they are probably one of the birds most frequently identified with farms and barns, right up there behind chickens. Speaking of chickens, did you know that it is possible to produce a chicken-turkey hybrid? Now, I could not find any evidence that a chicken-turkey hybrid made it to adulthood: while a zygote (an early embryonic stage) can develop, many chicken-turkey hybrids die shortly after that and do not even make it to hatching.ii Chicken-turkeys are not the only fowl hybrids that can be formed. There are also chicken-pheasant, chicken-quail, turkey-pheasant, and pheasant-quail hybrids.iii What makes all of these hybrids interesting is that they are between different genera. Turkeys, for example, belong to the genus Meleagris while chickens belong to the genus Gallus. Even though the hybrids of chickens and turkeys do not survive for long, the fact that some embryo development occurs at all indicates that they share a common gene pool. Likely, chickens and turkeys belong to the same created kinds. Likewise, the other hybrids mentioned indicate that chickens, turkeys, pheasants, and quails all belong to the same kind. Since the Flood, this single kind has speciated into a variety of genera and kinds, forming many of the farm and game birds that we are familiar with today.

One final reminder: as we wind down from Thanksgiving and Black Friday, do not forget that Giving Tuesday is coming up in just two more days. We are still asking for donations to fund our new entrance to the museum, which will lead straight into the Ice Age room.  This new entrance will be more visible from the highway, making it a more welcoming place for visitors to stop and visit and learn more about the wonderful world that God has created.

Thoughts from Steven

iHistory.com Editors (2019) “First Thanksgiving Meal” History .com Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/first-thanksgiving-meal on November 29, 2019

iiHarada, K. and Buss E. G. (1981) “Turkey-chicken hybrids: a cytological study of early development” Journal of Heredity 72(4): 264-266

iiiSarvella, P.; Roberts, D.; and Morris, R. (1977) “Immunological comparisons of the sera of chicken, turkey, pheasant, quail, and their intergeneric hybrids” Poultry Science 56(4): 1269-1272