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What Came First The Bird or the Colony?

Considering the Thanksgiving Holiday, I thought I would ask this bird-brained question!

Was the yummy big breasted American centerpiece named after the Eastern European nation or Vice versa? Or, is there no connection at all!

Our feathered friend shows up in fossil records from 23 million years ago. Obviously, you can say the egg came first but we are more interested in the name “Turkey”.

The name “turkey” wasn’t held by the Meleagris gallopavo (the scientific designation of the domestic turkey) until much after “Turkey” was used to refer to the region occupied by the Turks as far back as the 1300s.

Let’s be clear though, despite being referred to as Turkey for the last 700 years, it wasn’t until the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I that the official Republic of Turkey was formed.

So “Turkey” the nation definitely came first, but that still doesn’t explain why we call the Thanksgiving bird the “turkey.”

Early European explorers first identified the North American bird we know for its bald head, fan-like plumage, and big breast as the guinea fowl.

The guinea fowl is a similar, albeit smaller, bird from East Africa. The guinea fowl was chiefly imported into Europe by—you guessed it—the Turks!

When Spanish explorers shipped the North American bird back to England, they decided they looked an tasted an awful lot like the birds from the Turks and called them Turkeys.

North American turkeys fast became a hit in Britain, and by 1575, the birds were a Holiday dinner staple.

So now we know the turkey from North America is named after Turkey because turkeys look like birds that aren’t turkeys that Turkey sold in Europe, from Africa!

  • Gobble, Gobble


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