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STATUS
Importation: Early

Turkeys

Rare Poultry of North American Origin

Male and female turkeys (Photo by Gail Simons)
Male and female turkeys
(Photo by Gail Simons)

      The turkey is a native of North and Central America, and was first domesticated by at least 500 BC – possibly much earlier. It was taken to Europe in the early 1500s, shortly after the Spanish arrived in Mexico, and soon spread to the Mediterranean basin, where it probably acquired is present name from Turkish merchants.

      By the middle of the sixteenth century, turkeys were relatively common in Britain, and were being raised there in large numbers by the seventeenth century.

      Colonists from Britain to America in the early 1600s took domesticated turkeys with them, not expecting to find wild turkeys in their new home. The re-introduced turkeys were crossed with the native varieties and some were subsequently taken back to Britain.

Buff turkey
Buff turkey at Dove Cottage
(Photo by Michael Trotter)

      Turkeys were introduced into New Zealand at least as early as 1851 (there is an unsubstantiated account of Maoris giving a turkey in trade to a whaleship in 1819), and there appear to have been many subsequent importations. Many have gone wild in various districts from time to time, often being found not far from the farmyards from which they have strayed. Wild turkeys were reported inland from Hawkes Bay as early as the 1880s.

      Several domestic breeds are recognized – colours ranging from black, through blue, bronze and buff, to white. Most of the specialized breeds are now rare in New Zealand having been replaced by commercially developed food varieties.

      Some tourist and adventure organizations in both the North and South Island list the hunting of feral turkeys as one of the attractions they provide for visitors.

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