Turkeys are large birds (the eighth largest living bird species in terms of maximum mass) native originally to the Americas, but after European colonization turkeys were transported to Europe and today they are a common livestock in Europe, America, and many other part of the world . They are raised for their meat all year round but are closely associated in America as the star of the yearly Thanksgiving Dinner.
Female domesticated turkeys are referred to as hens, and the chicks may be called poults or turkeylings. In the United States, the males are referred to as toms, while in Europe, males are stags. Male Turkeys are more colorful than female turkeys and have a distinctive fleshy wattle or protuberance that hangs from the top of the beak (called a snood).
One species turkey, Meleagris gallopavo (commonly known as the domestic turkey or wild turkey), is native to the forests of North America. The other living species is Meleagris ocellata or the ocellated turkey, is native to the forests of the Yucatán Peninsula. Domestic Turkeys are larger than wild turkeys because domesticated turkeys are selectively bred to grow larger for their meat.
Domestic turkeys were first domesticated by Native Americans around 800BC for their feathers, which were used in ceremonies and to make robes and blankets. Turkeys were first used for meat around AD 1100. The Aztecs associated the turkey with their trickster god Tezcatlipoca, perhaps because of its perceived humorous behavior.
Domestic Turkeys were taken to Europe by the Spanish. Many distinct breeds were developed in Europe (e.g. Spanish Black, Royal Palm). In the early 20th century, many advances were made in the breeding of turkeys, resulting in breeds such as the Beltsville Small White.
Turkeys were often misidentified with an unrelated species of bird that was imported to Europe through the country of Turkey.
William Strickland, a16th-century English navigator, is generally credited with introducing the turkey into England. The domestic turkey was sent from England to Jamestown, Virginia in 1608.
Prior to the late 19th century, turkey was something of a luxury in the UK, with goose or beef a more common Christmas dinner among the working classes.
Turkey production in the UK was centered in East Anglia, using two breeds, the Norfolk Black and the Norfolk Bronze (also known as Cambridge Bronze). These would be driven as flocks, after shoeing, down to markets in London from the 17th century onwards - the breeds having arrived in the early 16th century via Spain.