Turkeys are pretty much the most ignored bird until November of each year
But as it turns out, they’re rather interesting birds.
This unit study covers some of the basic info about turkeys as well as some more in depth info.
The Turkey Unit Study
I love using unit studies to dive deep into topics we might otherwise not learn as much about.
So I thought it was the perfect time of year to learn a bit more about turkeys.
This post includes everything you need to get your unit study going, including printables, books, videos, and crafts/activities.
Get the Turkey Unit Printables
I had to make a few printables to accompany this unit study.
What’s included in the unit:
- Turkey Fact Booklet
- Turkey Life Cycle Posters
- Turkey Vocabulary Cards
- Turkey Vocabulary Writing
- Turkey Vocabulary Matching
- Turkey Myth Cards
- Parts of a Turkey worksheet
- Turkey Word Search
- Turkey Life Cycle Spinner
- Wild Turkey/Domestic Turkey Venn Diagram
These printables are the perfect addition to a unit study to learn more about turkeys.
Fun Facts About Turkeys
Turkeys are pretty common birds but we don’t often learn much about them. And a lot of what we think we know isn’t all that accurate. So I wanted to share a few facts about turkeys and then cover a few myths about turkeys and clear them up.
Turkeys are not from Turkey. Turkeys are native two places in the Americas – First is North America (Canada to Mexico) and the second is Central America (Yucatan to Guatemala).
So why are they called turkeys? At one point, Europeans enjoyed eating guinea fowl (another type of bird). The guinea fowl was native to Eastern Africa and was imported through Turkey. The Europeans started calling the guinea fowl turkey-cock or turkey-hen.
As it turns out, turkeys look similar to guinea fowl. So when Europeans arrived in the Americas, they called the familiar looking bird a turkey.
Turkeys do not chew their food. Turkey’s don’t have teeth – and thank goodness because they are known to be a bit aggressive. But if they don’t have teeth, how do they digest food?
They have gizzards! A gizzard is basically a 2nd stomach made of muscular walls.
Turkeys swallow rocks that stay in their gizzard. When food enters the gizzard, the muscular walls contract and release, moving the rocks around, and breaking up the food for digestion.
Turkeys were domesticated by the Aztecs and Native Americans. The earliest turkeys evolved over 20 million years ago in North and Central America. Turkeys were domesticated in two different places about 1500-2300 years ago.
The Anasazi people of the Colorado Plateau domesticated turkeys mainly for their feathers.
The Maya people in south-central Mexico domesticated turkeys and believed them to be God-like creatures.
Poop is the key to determining a turkey’s sex. While poop isn’t the only way to determine the sex of a turkey, it is one easy way. Female turkey dropped appear to be spiral shaped while the males poop looks like a j.
Baby turkeys have feathers and can run and eat very shortly after hatching. Until chicks who require feeding and protection after hatched, baby turkeys (called poults) can run and eat just after hatching. They also have feathers that protect them against the elements (to an extent). However, even wild poults cannot fly just after hatching. They still require some protection from their mother.
Myth #1 – Turkeys ‘Gobble’
We grow up hearing that Gobble is the noise that turkeys make. In fact, only male turkeys make the gobble sound. And they only make that sound when attempting to attract a female.
Yes, the gobble is a mating call.
Female turkeys and males not trying to find a mate make more common bird noises like cluck, purr, yelp, and cackle.
Myth #2 – Turkeys cannot fly
Turkeys can, in fact, fly. Well, wild turkeys can.
Domesticated turkeys have been bred to be heavy and cannot fly. But wild turkeys are typically much leaner and can fly!
Myth #3 – Turkeys are stupid and will drown in the rain
Turkeys are actually intelligent birds. Some turkeys do look up when it rains and this is thought to be a genetic disorder. It’s called tetanic torticollar spasms. The spasms can cause them to look upwards (or elsewhere).
But even turkeys with this disorder rarely drown from looking up in the rain.
Myth #4 – Benjamin Franklin tried to make the turkey the national bird of the US
Franklin is credited with saying that turkeys displayed more courage than the bald eagle. And unlike the bald eagle, turkeys are actually native to the Americas.
However, he did not suggest that the turkey should be the national bird of the U.S. nor did he suggest it should be on the official seal.
Books to Read About Turkeys
As I always like to say, no unit study would be complete without some great books.
A lot of these are Thanksgiving themed so bear that in mind. Turkey’s are not a popular topic of study except for around Thanksgiving.
Videos to Watch About Turkeys
I love including videos in our unit studies. There’s often some information I wouldn’t have thought to include that my kids pick up on in videos.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of turkey videos that are not about cooking turkeys or Thanksgiving. However, the few options we do have are pretty great.
- Happy Turkey Day from the Wild Kratts.
- My Life as a Turkey by PBS (might require an extra membership to watch online)
- The Dinosaur on your Thanksgiving Table by PBS
Turkey Crafts and Activities
Add something fun to bring your unit study to life! If you have kids who enjoy hands-on activities or crafts, you’ll want to add one of these activities in.
Crafts aren’t always educational but they can add a lot of fun to any unit study.
Work on thankfulness with this fun and cute thankful turkey.