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Happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully you are enjoying the holiday with family and friends.

Since turkeys have become a big part of Americans’ Thanksgiving feasts, here are some facts about the wild version of the big birds still found across much of the United States.

Many birds fly south as soon as cold weather arrives in the fall, but not wild turkeys. Instead, they may move to an area where it is easier to find food, like around a farmer’s grain silo or where a rancher is feeding hay to his cows.

Turkeys are big birds, weighing about 9 to 16 pounds. They do fly, but usually not very far. They also will fly up onto large tree branches, called roosts, to spend the night so they don’t get eaten by predators like coyotes, foxes or bobcats.

The Cornell Lab’s bird website is a great place to learn about all different kinds of birds. Here are some of the cool facts the site has about wild turkeys.

Turkeys are native to North America. Fossils show that the odd-looking birds have lived in the southern United States and Mexico for at least 5 million years.

In the early 1500s, European explorers brought home wild turkeys from Mexico, where native people had domesticated the birds hundreds of years earlier. Turkeys quickly became popular food in Europe. Later, when English colonists settled on the Atlantic Coast, they brought domesticated turkeys with them.

The English name for the bird may have come from the route they took when being shipped from the Americas to Europe. Those long-ago sailing routes passed through the country of Turkey.

Turkeys can swim, but probably don’t like to. When they have to cross water they will tuck their wings in close, spread their tails, and kick.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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