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Happy Meleagris gallopavo Day!

2012 November 21

By Jeffery Robichaud

It is nearly Thanksgiving and that can mean only one thing.  Well yeah of course, people camped out overnight in front of Big Box stores to save twenty bucks on a Blu-Ray player…but I was thinking Turkey.  This time of year Turkey is big business, and I always seem to get a call from my folks that involves them asking did you get your Turkey yet?  Everywhere you look there are stories and facts about turkeys.  Heck as I type this, my wife and kids are heading over to pick up their race packets for the “Turkey Trot”. 

But rather than pay homage to the bird that many of us Gobble up, I thought I’d talk about its not so distant cousin and pass the wild turkey around the proverbial table.  My family and I live on top of a ridge with woods and a creek behind us and darned if we don’t get visited by wild turkeys about this time every year.  They like to hang out in the neighbor’s yard and meander back down the hill.  We only see them occasionally, but they must be frequent guests because our high strung dog barely raises his head anymore. 

Over the past several months we’ve had several blog posts about our Conservation Focus Areas which incorporate concepts of vertebrate richness and conserving natural areas that are important for sustaining species diversity.  When I looked into the range of wild turkeys I was actually pretty surprised.  In fact spotting them in my backyard here in Missouri isn’t quite that rare of an occurrence.  According to the National Wild Turkey Federation the estimated 5.3 million Eastern Wild Turkeys can be found pretty much everywhere in my home state of Missouri (and as I can attest even in that white spot around Kansas City where none are shown).

But I can’t leave my blog without sharing with you your compulsory Turkey Trivia.  Last week my family and I were in San Diego for a bit of a vacation.  While on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Tram ride our tour guide was filling our heads full of facts.   Traversing a stretch without animals, she shared how groups of animals are called by different names… a pride of lions, a band of gorillas, a herd of elephants, and my personal favorite…an asylum of loons.  All of which got me thinking, what do you call a group of turkeys?  Come to find out it’s a either a gang or rafter of turkeys.   Seems fitting to call them a gang since my two boys and their gang of friends often strike me as nothing but a bunch of turkeys.  Now you too can impress your friends by checking out some other names for groups of animals here, and be ostentatious at your turkey day gathering by sharing that it is an ostentation of peacocks.  Happy Thanksgiving!

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  On Thursday he will be rooting for Washington since Dallas is only a game behind his beloved Seahawks for a wildcard spot.   

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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  1. PLM permalink
    November 21, 2014

    H. B. Paksoy, DPhil

    Published in Journal of American Studies of Turkey 6 (1997): 89

    Most Americans tend to think that the Turkish Republic is named after a bird. As one result, quite a few Turks in the US, at one time or other, had to answer the question “What do you Turks eat during Thanksgiving?” This query is especially heard during November of each year, as Americans prepare to observe the quintessentially American holiday.

    The homeland of the fowl known as Meleagris gallopavo or americana sybestris auis, is the North American continent. The 1494 Tordesillas treaty, forged by the Pope in Rome, granted the monopoly of commerce originating from the newly discovered continent to the Portuguese (as opposed to the Spanish). The Portuguese brought this fowl to their Goa colony in India. Circa 1615, Cihangir (a direct descendent of the founder of the Mughal empire in India, Babur [1483-1530] himself a grandson of Timur [d. 1405] wrote his Tuzuk-u Jahangiri (Institutes of Cihangir). In his book, Cihangir also described this fowl in detail replete with a color drawing. Since Meleagris gallopavo resembled the Meleagris Numida commonly found in Africa (especially in Guinea), and already known in India, the former became known in British India as the “Guinea Fowl” (see O. Caroe, “Why Turkey.” Asian Affairs. October 1970). Meleagris gallopavo was then introduced to Egypt, a province of the Ottoman empire and entered the Turkish language as “hindi” (from India). When traders took a breeding stock from Ottoman (“Turkish”) Egypt to Spain and the British Isles, the bird was designated “Turkey.”

    As a result, the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620 were familiar with “Turkey” when they encountered it in their new home. After the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin suggested that “turkey,” native of the land be designated as the symbol of the young American republic. Instead, Haliaeetus Leucocephalus (Bald Eagle) was given this honor.

    from the book
    HB Paksoy

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