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5 Fun Facts About Turkeys — Yes, They Can Fly (and Change Color)

Turkey staring at the camera
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Thanksgiving is almost here, which means we start seeing turkeys everywhere—on TV, in our children’s school drawings, running through our dreams every single night while we sleep … you get the idea. And eventually these poor turkeys will be inside many of our overstuffed stomachs as well.

Americans consume up to 45 million turkeys every Thanksgiving, and around 270 million each year. That’s a blessing if you’re a carnivore and aficionado of lean poultry, but it’s a terrible curse if you happen to be a turkey. The president only pardons one turkey (and a backup bird) per year, which means the odds aren’t on the turkeys’ side.

Turkeys, apart from what you see on your dinner plate, are pretty incredible birds. Here are five fun Thanksgiving turkey facts for you to ponder and pass along to others for their holiday edification.

Benjamin Franklin Wanted the Turkey to Be the National Bird

Ben Franklin loved turkeys. He loved them so much, in fact, that he wanted to enshrine the turkey as the national bird of the United States. Franklin thought turkeys were a little bit odd and silly, to be sure (who doesn’t?). But the other choice, the bald eagle, in Franklin’s opinion was a big coward and not fit for the office of national bird. The eagle won out over the much braver turkey, changing the fate of both birds for years to come.

Wild Turkeys Can Run and Fly Really Fast

Yep, wild turkeys (not their fat, domesticated cousins) can run up to 25 miles per hour, and contrary to the popular belief that they’re flightless, these forest-dwelling birds can fly in short bursts—reaching speeds of 55 miles per hour. Living in the wild comes with some danger, and swiftness on the ground and in the air has enabled the wild turkey to live, well, “wild,” as their name would suggest, and free.

Turkeys and T. Rex Both Had Wishbones

Chicken and turkeys are related to the dinosaurs. Modern fowl are some of the closest living relatives to the massive and formidable beasts that dominated the earth millions of years ago. Of course, if you spot a turkey waddling about a pen, you might not be struck with terror, but turkeys, like the ferocious T. Rex, have wishbones, which is a sign of their genetic relationship. If turkeys knew of their proud and extremely dangerous lineage, they’d likely be even cockier than they are now.

Turkeys Roam On California Farm Ahead Of The Holiday Season
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Emotion Can Change a Turkey’s Color 

Turkeys don’t blush, per se, but a bald turkey head, along with the featherless wattles, can change color according to the bird’s emotions and levels of anxiety and excitement. Blue, pink, red and white are some of the hues in the multicolored paint can of a turkey’s skin tone. And you thought turkeys only came in one color!

Wild Turkeys See Better Than Human Beings

Wild turkeys see a heck of a lot better than humans do. With a field of vision of 270 degrees and superior color perception, these birds are incredibly hard to sneak up on. Their vision lets them literally keep an eye—or two eyes—out for natural predators, as well as holiday hunters looking for a meal to set out on the dinner table come that dreaded fourth Thursday in November.

Win McNamee, Getty Images
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