A turkey is a large bird in the genus Meleagris. One species, Meleagris gallopavo, commonly known as the Wild Turkey, is native to the forests of North America. The other living species is Meleagris ocellata or Ocellated Turkey, native to the forests of the Yucatán Peninsula. There are several extinct species dating from as far back as 23 million years ago.
The domestic turkey is a descendant of the Wild Turkey.
Turkeys are classed in the taxonomic order of Galliformes. Within this order they are relatives of the family/subfamily Tetraonidae (grouse). Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of the beak, and a fleshy protuberance that hangs from the top of its beak called a snood. With wingspans of 1.5–1.8 metres (4.9–5.9 ft), the turkeys are by far the largest birds in the open forests in which they live. As with many galliform species, the female (hen) is smaller and is much less colorful than the male (tom or gobbler).
History and naming
When Europeans first encountered turkeys on the American continent, they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guineafowl (Numididae), also known as turkey fowl (or turkey hen and turkey cock) due to the birds' importation to Central Europe through Turkey. That name, shortened to just the name of the country, stuck as the name of the American bird.
The confusion between these kinds of birds from related, but different, families is also reflected in the scientific name for the turkey genus: meleagris (μελεαγρίς) is Greek for guineafowl. The domesticated turkey is attributed to Aztec agriculture, which addressed one subspecies of Meleagris gallopavo local to the present day states of Jalisco and Guerrero. Two major reasons why the name turkey fowl stuck to Meleagris rather than to the guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) were the genuine belief that the newly-discovered Americas were in fact a part of Asia, and second, the tendency during that time to attribute exotic animals and foods to a place that symbolized far-off, exotic lands. (The Ottoman Empire, where Turkey was located, represented the exotic East.)
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