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Turkeys are weirder birds than you think. Here are 9 surprising fun facts

Don’t think of them as big chickens.

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Turkey meat may be a Thanksgiving staple, but there’s a whole lot more to these birds than what’s on your plate.

Found all over North America, turkeys have some peculiar features, surprising abilities, and a fascinating evolutionary history.

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Here are 9 weird facts about turkeys:

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9. Turkey poops can reveal the sex and age of a bird.

It’s all in the shape.

Malcolm MacGregor/Moment Open/Getty Images

Malcolm MacGregor/Moment Open/Getty Images

Male turkey poops are shaped like a J, while female turkey poops are shaped like spirals.

And, as birds age, their turds become larger.

8. The largest turkey ever recorded was 86 pounds.

In 1989, Tyson the turkey set the Guinness World Record at a heaviest turkey competition in the United Kingdom.

Rodger Shagam/Moment/Getty Images

Rodger Shagam/Moment/Getty Images

On average, male turkeys bred for food are about 41 pounds.

Female domestic turkeys are much less than that — only about 17 pounds on average.

7. Wild turkeys can run — and fly — quite fast.

On two legs, they can reach up to 25 miles per hour. In the air, they can move up to 55 miles per hour.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

And while they aren’t frequently in the water, turkeys can swim, too.

They do this by fanning their tails and kicking their legs like ducks.

6. Turkeys are one of the only domesticated birds native to the Americas.

The only other native domestic bird is the Muscovy Duck.

Sarah Bricker / 500px/500px/Getty Images

Sarah Bricker / 500px/500px/Getty Images

Though domestic chickens are evolutionary cousins to turkeys, they were brought to North America by Europeans.

Spanish colonists thought turkeys looked a lot like giant chickens when they first saw the birds in Mexico.

5. Turkeys are more distantly related to chickens than you might realize.

The last common ancestor between chickens and turkeys existed about 40 million years ago.

E4C/E+/Getty Images

E4C/E+/Getty Images

However, they are both part of the same bird family, Phasianidae.

This group contains other heavyset ground-dwellers like peacocks, pheasants, and quail.

4. Some of the oldest turkey remains are 5 million years old.

They are preserved so well in part due to the bird’s large and dense bones.

Robert Winkler/E+/Getty Images

Robert Winkler/E+/Getty Images

Turkeys have also been eaten by humans for thousands of years, if not longer.

Compared to other birds, they are well-represented in the fossil record.

3. Wild turkey beards can grow over a foot long.

These thick strands that protrude from the chests of turkeys are modified feathers. The longest recorded beard, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation, was 22.5 inches.

Hal Beral/Corbis/Getty Images

Hal Beral/Corbis/Getty Images

Turkeys often grow multiple beards, too.

One wild turkey hunted in 2017 had a whopping 13 beards attached to its body.

2. It isn’t just males who grow beards!

Though rare, sometimes female turkeys can sprout thick chest feathers as well.

Elizabeth W. Kearley/Moment/Getty Images

Elizabeth W. Kearley/Moment/Getty Images

And since beards can sometimes break off, they’re not seen as a reliable indicator of a turkey’s sex.

1. Wild turkeys were almost hunted to extinction in the 1900s.

Thanks to conservation efforts around the U.S., their populations are flourishing in many areas.

Henrik Sorensen/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Henrik Sorensen/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Wild turkeys live in every U.S. state, except for Alaska.

There are estimated to be at least 6 million wild turkeys living in the country today, though numbers have dropped slightly in recent years.