Turkeys In Flight? Science And Thanksgiving

by Kevin Burton

   If you’re like me, most of what you know about turkeys comes from a cookbook and WKRP In Cincinnati.  Good thing Nicole Cosgrove is here to help us out.

   Cosgrove is the lead Pet Editor for www.petkeen.com.  Once our laughter at the classic Les Nessman turkey drop broadcast has subsided, she is qualified to serve up some clarification on turkey abilities.

   So, can turkeys fly, or not? Cosgrove writes that left to their own devices, wild turkeys can do a lot of things, but the domesticated birds are much more limited.

   “When we picture turkeys, we usually imagine large, awkward birds that are standing or walking on the ground. You may have even heard that turkeys are incapable of flying even though they have wings,” Cosgrove writes. “Their stocky bodies make it seem like these birds can’t easily take flight.”

   “In most cases with domesticated turkeys, that’s true.”

   “Whether turkeys can fly or not depends on the type. Wild turkeys can fly, while domesticated turkeys can’t, in most cases. Why is that the case?”

   “Wild turkeys are free-roaming birds that live in wooded areas and spend their days finding food and avoiding predators. They are arboreal, meaning they live in the trees,” Cosgrove writes. “They are usually only seen on the ground, where they eat. This may lead people to believe that they cannot fly.”
   “In reality, these birds can fly at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour for short periods. This enables them to escape predators and reach safety.”

   “Wild turkeys typically fly low to the ground unless they are looking for safe places to roost at night. They can reach the canopy tops of trees and sleep on high perches. They sleep in groups because their vision is poor in the dark. Staying together means a greater sense of safety and security. Turkeys are social animals and enjoy being around others of the same species.”

   “Domesticated turkeys can fly when they’re young. As they age, they are greatly limited by their size when it comes to their ability to fly. While wild turkeys are free to roam, domesticated turkeys are livestock raised for meat consumption. These birds are purposely fed to produce the most meat possible. Eventually, the breast gets so large and strong that the turkey’s wings cannot support its weight. They may try to fly but most likely won’t make it off the ground,” Cosgrove writes.

   “Wild turkeys have chestnut brown or black feathers and slender bodies. Their meat is darker and firmer than that of the domesticated turkey because wild turkeys are more muscular. A domesticated turkey’s dark meat is usually limited to the legs because those are the muscles that they use the most. On the wild turkey, the breast meat is also dark because these turkeys use those muscles to fly.”

   “A domesticated turkey usually is bred to have white feathers. Their bodies are much larger than those of wild turkeys. They are slow-moving and have lost their instincts for survival in the wild. Evidence suggests that turkeys have been domesticated since 25 A.D. by Native Americans and are one of the oldest forms of meat production.”

   “Turkeys can swim! Although they may not be good at it, they can do it,” Cosgrove writes.  “You might not catch a turkey going for a swim just because they feel like it, though. In some cases, a turkey has accidentally stepped into the water or is trying to escape perceived danger. Swimming then becomes the only option.”

   “They tuck their wings close to their bodies, spread their tail feathers, and kick their legs to propel them across the water. The problem is that these birds aren’t waterfowl. They don’t have the same water-repellent oils in their feathers that birds like ducks do.”

   “While they can swim, their feathers soak up water, weighing the birds down and making it more difficult for them to move. They can swim for short distances, but you won’t find any turkeys trying to swim across large bodies of water.”

   “Turkeys can run and wild turkeys can run fast. Since turkeys spend most of their lives on their legs, the muscles build up and become stronger. Wild turkeys can run as fast as 25 mph while domestic turkeys are slower. Domestic turkeys also waddle when they walk and run, while wild turkeys don’t.

   “Baby turkeys are called poults. For the first four weeks of their lives, they can’t fly and depend on their mother for care and protection. They start to fly between four and five weeks old. They can then fly up to 50 feet and start to roost in trees with the others.

   “The wild turkey is the largest game bird in North America. They have a wingspan of up to 5 feet and can weigh 20 pounds.”

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