Turkeys are large birds in the genus Meleagris, native to North America. There are two living turkey species: the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) of eastern and central North America and the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

Males of both turkey species have a distinctive fleshy wattle, called a snood, that hangs from the top of the beak. As with many large ground-feeding birds, the male is bigger and much more colourful than the female.


Wild turkeys eat seasonally. In spring and summer, they feed on grains like wheat, corn, and small animals including grasshoppers and lizards. During autumn and winter, they prefer fruits and nuts such as grapes, acorns, and walnuts. They forage mostly at sunrise and sunset.


Turkeys engage in grooming like dusting, sunning, and preening. Dusting involves flapping wings on the ground to coat in dirt, removing debris and blocking parasites. Sunning helps in spreading natural oils and drying feathers. Preening removes dirt, bacteria, and weak feathers.


Wild turkeys are mainly walkers and foragers, not flyers. When in danger, they can run 35 miles an hour and can reach speeds of 55 miles an hour flying for a quarter of a mile.


The earliest turkeys evolved over 20 million years ago and share a recent common ancestor with grouse, pheasants, and other fowl.

The wild turkey species is the ancestor of the domestic turkey, which was domesticated approximately 2,000 years ago by indigenous peoples. It was this domesticated turkey that later reached Eurasia, during the Columbian exchange.


In what is now the United States, there were an estimated 10 million turkeys in the 17th century. By the 1930s, only 30,000 remained. Biologists spent decades trapping surviving birds and reintroducing them to areas in which they had become extinct.

Turkey hunting's popularity has once again surged in recent years due to the significant increase in the wild turkey population being back into the millions of individuals.



Over 46 million are slaughtered for Thanksgiving and 22 million for Christmas in the USA. Around 11 million turkeys are eaten each year in the UK at Christmas.

Genetic engineering

Genetic engineering has allowed farmers to breed birds that reach over 18kg within five months. Today's average turkey weighs over 13kg, 56% more than in 1960. Factory-farmed turkeys, due to their size, struggle to walk, can't fly, and must be bred through artificial insemination.

Artificial insemination

To obtain semen, farmers stimulate the males' anus until erection. Females are then held upside down and inseminated using a syringe or tube, often resulting in injuries.


In nature, turkey mothers care for their young like humans. In the meat industry, turkey chicks, hatched in incubators, never see their parents.

After hatching, chicks are placed on conveyer belts for sorting and examination, treated like objects. Chicks too small or sick, seen as waste, are often gassed or thrown into macerators, ending their brief lives by grinding them up alive.

The remaining infants instinctively seek their mothers, and without guidance, many fail to find food in sheds and starve.


Captive turkeys spend their entire lives shoulder to shoulder so workers trim birds' toes, cut beaks with hot blades, and de-snood males to prevent violence.


In anatomical terms, a snood is an erectile, fleshy protuberance on the forehead of turkeys. Most of the time when the turkey is in a relaxed state, the snood is pale and 2–3 cm long. However, when the male begins his courtship display the snood engorges with blood, becomes redder and elongates several centimeters, hanging well below the beak.

Captive female wild turkeys prefer to mate with long-snooded males and male turkeys defer to males with relatively longer snoods.

While fighting, commercial turkeys often peck and pull at the snood, causing damage and bleeding. This often leads to further injurious pecking by other turkeys and sometimes results in cannibalism. To prevent this, some farmers cut off the snood when the chick is young.

The only world they ever know

Turkeys never have the chance to enjoy fresh air or sunlight before being sent to slaughter. Up to 25,000 turkeys may be kept in a dark cramped shed. They suffer from ulcers and ammonia burns due to dirty conditions. Bred for large breasts, they also face hip problems and chronic pain. They are killed at 3-5 months never knowing simple joys like running, building nests, and raising their young.


Up to 2,000 birds are crammed into a truck for hours without sustenance or water, and in extreme weather, some die en route.

At the slaughterhouse, they're hung upside down, their heads dragged through an electrified tank that paralyses but doesn't kill. Some are still conscious when their throats are slit. If not cut properly, they’re scalded alive in boiling water for feather removal.



While feathers are often considered a co-product of poultry production, sometimes a waste by-product, some producers raise poultry specifically for their feathers. Feathers are used in a number of decorative products such as boas, feather fans, masks, costume accessories, bird ornaments, and even earrings and flowers.



While turkeys are not frequently used for medical testing for the benefit of humans, turkeys are used for meat industry experiments aimed at increasing profits.



Turkey bowling is a disrespectful "sport" using turkey carcass as a tool for entertainment, trivialising the victim.

A frozen turkey serves as the bowling ball and 10 liquid-filled plastic beverage bottles are used for bowling pins. The corpse is bowled down a smooth surface such as ice or a soap-covered sheet of painters plastic.



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