Where was the turkey first domesticated?


Quick Answer

The turkey was first domesticated in South America. There is evidence that the birds were domesticated by the ancient Mayans as early as 100 B.C.

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Full Answer

Turkey domestication occurred in the New World, where they were discovered by the Spanish in 1519 and taken back to Europe. Both the Aztecs and the pueblo Indians in North America had domesticated turkeys when the Spanish explorers reached America. The birds were used by the natives for food. They made the feathers into clothing and the bones into musical instruments. Although turkeys are native to the Americas, the pilgrims brought descendants of the Spanish birds from Europe back to the colonies in 1620.

Farm-raised Thanksgiving turkeys are a far cry from their ancestors. The turkeys during the pilgrims' time had brightly-colored feathers and were known for their intelligence. Wild turkeys are still much smaller than their domesticated cousins. Domesticated turkeys are much bigger than they were a few hundred years ago as well as far less intelligent. They are bred to have large breasts for the white meat. Incidentally, the chest sizes prevent the toms from naturally fertilizing the eggs of the hens because they are too large. All domestic turkey reproduction must use artificial insemination.

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