YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A small rafter of five turkeys strolls along a path, looking for choice morsels. Turkeys are omnivores, eating everything from seed (they are regular visitors to our bird feeder) to insects to frogs, so they have a wide choice of choice morsels. (“Rafter” is the term for a group of turkeys, but they won’t mind if you call them a flock.)
The North American wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is one of the great conservation success stories. After centuries of unrestricted hunting, they were almost extinct by the beginning of the 20th century, with less than 30,000 remaining in the wild. Today, thanks to restoration programs and limited hunting seasons, they’re up to about 7 million.
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Turkeys evolved on the North American continent roughly 20 million years ago. They are classified as part of the family Phasianidae, which includes pheasants, partridges, Old World quail, peafowl, and chickens.
The scientific name Meleagris gallopavo harkens back to an ancient myth, and the fact this New World bird looked a lot like some Old World birds to Europeans. The genus name Meleagris is based on a Greek myth in which Artemis, goddess of the hunt, turns the mourning sisters of the slain hero Meleager into guinea fowl. The species name gallopavo fuses together two Latin words — “gallus,” meaning rooster, and “pavo,” meaning peacock.
Today’s fun fact: Turkeys were first domesticated in Mexico about 2,000 years ago.
Today’s other fun fact: If you drop “Meleagris gallopavo” into Google Translate and set the input to Latin and the output to English, what comes out is “I was galloping with turkeys.”