Today, here in the U.S., an annual tradition is underway; Thanksgiving. I sincerely hope that those of you that celebrate this festivity are hanging out with friends, family, or anyone that you care about, smartly swaddled in your best harvest sweaters. I hope by now, your unapologetically racist uncle has ceased his impassioned musings on how “all lives matter” and his declarations on how Donald Trump is “just the man for the job.” Don’t worry, the nausea will pass. I hope you’ve survived yet another round of invasive questions from perennially-seen Baby Boomer relatives about when you’ll be getting a “real” job, getting married, and having children. Take a deep breath, remember, murder is technically very much illegal. Besides, you can’t afford to go to prison. Not with all those student loans to pay off! Anyways, yeah, I wish everyone the best of luck out there.
Sure, most of us like to tell ourselves this holiday centers around ideals of family, generosity, and humbled self-reflection. But, let’s be real: the big draw for this autumnal grand event is the feast that comes along with it. Yes, modern Thanksgiving is a loving ode to gluttony…one I don’t resent for an instant. Pies, stuffing, rolls, gravy, pies, potatoes, squash….did I mention pies? But all of this pales in comparison to the main attraction, that poultry on a pedestal; the turkey.
Yes, turkey….more specifically, the domesticated form of Meleagris gallopavo, a large species of vaguely pheasant-like ground bird that ranges across much of the eastern two-thirds of the continental United States and south into northeastern Mexico. This species, along with a single close relative (the dazzlingly-colorful ocellated turkey, Meleagris ocellatus, from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula) are the “true turkeys.” These two species make up the entirety of a distinct subfamily in the ground fowl family (Phasianidae), a large taxonomic grouping that includes chunky, chicken-like things that prefer to run rather than fly….everything from grouses to partridges to peacocks.
There are plenty of things in our world that share, completely or partially, the common name of the Meleagris birds. A venomous marine fish. Soy-based meat alternatives. West Asian countries. All these, of course, are Meleagris-style “turkeys” in name only. There are even a handful of other species of bird that are, confusingly, referred to as “turkeys” despite not being particularly close relatives of the gobble-gobble/hand tracing variety so familiar to North Americans.
One of these not-turkeys resides on the opposite side of the Pacific from Meleagris, and in the Southern Hemisphere. The animal I’m referring to is the Australian brush-turkey (Alectura lathami). With its beefy, bowling ball shape, alert and fanned out tail feathers, and naked head and neck…both saturated with colors that look like the end result of receiving a swirly in a vat of liquefied candy corn…the brush-turkey seems damn deserving of its fowl moniker.