The turkey is a large bird in the genus Meleagris, native to North America. There are two extant turkey species: the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) of eastern and central North America and the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Males of both turkey species have a distinctive fleshy wattle, called a snood, that hangs from the top of the beak. They are among the largest birds in their ranges. As with many large ground-feeding birds (order Galliformes), the male is bigger and much more colorful than the female.
Temporal range: Miocene – RecentEarly
|A male wild turkey strutting|
|Meleagris gallopavo (wild turkey)|
Although native to North America, the turkey probably got its name from the domesticated variety being imported to Britain in ships coming from the Levant via Spain. The British at the time therefore associated the bird with the country Turkey and the name prevailed. An alternative theory posits that another bird, a guinea fowl native to Madagascar introduced to England by Turkish merchants, was the original source, and that the term was then transferred to the New World bird by English colonizers with knowledge of the previous species.
The earliest turkeys evolved in North America over 20 million years ago. They share a recent common ancestor with grouse, pheasants, and other fowl. The wild turkey species is the ancestor of the domestic turkey, which was domesticated approximately 2,000 years ago.