They may have same origin, but wild and tame turkeys much different
Wild and domestic turkeys much different, although they have same origin.
There is considerable difference between the wild turkey probably eaten at the first Thanksgiving meal and the tame bird found on most holiday tables these days.
The bird most of us have with stuffing, potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie was once closely related to the wild bird, but now hardly represents a distant cousin.
Few people today will have a wo;d turkey on the Thanksgiving table unless they have had it saved in their freezer, although Kentucky does have a fall turkey season, but relatively small numbers of hunters take advantage of it. As of Nov. 15, 2,747 turkeys were taken in the Bluegrass state, including 40 in Nelson County.
According to information from the National Wild Turkey Federation, Spanish explorers arrived in Mexico in 1517, and on this expedition they discovered large numbers of turkeys.
The men took careful notes and documented every detail of their New World, but failed to tell us whether or not they found wild turkeys or domestic turkeys. Because of this oversight, some historians credit Christopher Columbus as the first European to lay eyes on a wild turkey during his fourth voyage.
Understanding this – the fact that there are two turkeys – only leads to a series of confusing questions. During the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the National Wild Turkey Federation, a conservation organization instrumental in restoring North America’s wild turkey populations, says it receives an incredible number of calls and e-mails about the differences between the two.
Why are there two kinds of turkeys? What’s the difference? And where do domestic turkeys come from in the first place?
Both turkeys were common in Mexico in the 16th Century. Historians know that Indian tribes in Mexico, particularly the Aztec Indians, were skilled at hunting wild turkeys and capturing and domesticating some of them. Those domesticated wild turkeys evolved over time, learning to rely on humans and becoming tame.
Domesticating plants and animals emerged, more or less, as groups of hunters-gathers evolved into farmers and stock breeders. So domesticating turkeys was a choice of convenience, a way to fence in dinner.
How long turkeys existed in North America before European explorers discovered the New World is uncertain. It is certain, however, that North America’s native bird has five centuries of recorded history.
In spite of all the questions, one thing has always been certain – people like to eat turkeys. Its meat was once reserved for the elite; and in sixteenth-century Mexico, some towns only allowed lords to eat turkeys.
When comparing the two birds, the wild turkey is better known for its physical attributes and attitude. Centuries ago, after seeing a turkey for the first time, an East Indian emperor was fascinated by the wild turkey’s attitude of self-importance. Tom Kelly, a longtime turkey hunter and outdoor writer, declared the wild bird the epitome of grace.
“His neck stretched out, he looks long and lean and quick – putting every foot down as if he is walking on egg shells,” said Kelly. “When he is most impressive is when he’s coming to your call, and he gets within 30 or 40 yards and thinks there’s a girl (a hen) in sight.”
On Thanksgiving Day, you may stop to consider the domestic bird before you. Basted and stuffed, he is not the same as the wild bird often depicted, sometimes standing beside humble pilgrims, in many commercialized Thanksgiving images.
The domestic bird has been bred for more white meat and eating, however the wild turkey from a health perspective is better for you.
Whichever bird you choose, or even if you opt for a ham, have a great Thanksgiving weekend.