One account of the discovery of turkeys in the New World credits a Jewish interpreter with Christopher Columbus. He proposed the Hebrew name Tukki,”which refers to peacocks in the Hebrew Scriptures (1 Kings 10:22 and 2 Chronicles 9:21).
The account appears plausible, given that male turkeys and peacocks display their tail feathers in a similar manner. Their plain hens do not look that much different.
The mystery to me is that only English anglicizes Tukki. Other European names for turkeys do no resemble Tukki– for instance, guajalote or pavo in Spanish, dindonneau or dinde in French, Puter or Truthan in German, Italian comes close to a cognate with Tacchinotto or Tacchino.
There’s a story in there somewhere, and I would like to know it. Please share it with me.
Neither peacocks nor turkeys are indigenous to the lands of the Bible, of course. Greater and Lesser Bustards formerly passed through the Holy Land during their winter migrations from Africa to the plains and steppes of Europe and Asia. The last record of a Great Bustard (Otis tarda) in Israel dates to 2008, but Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) are still winter visitors and the MacQueen’s Bustard or Houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) survives in the Negev region.
Though not named in the Bible, bustards are more comparable to turkeys than peacocks in size, edibility, and habits. The Romans, to be sure, ate peacocks, but out of sheer extravagance.
Hunting and habitat destruction have greatly reduced the numbers of Great Bustards throughout their former range, Though they have been re-introduced into the United Kingdom with some success. The heaviest of flying birds, males Great Bustards stand up to 40 inches tall and weigh an average 28 to 30 pounds, compared to 20 pounds for wild turkeys. Their broad wings have a span of 7 to 9 feet. Hens are about a third smaller. While Great Bustards have a strong and steady flight, up to 35 mph, they prefer to walk and run like turkeys, which can fly somewhat faster though not so far. Easily recognizable in flight or on the ground by their size,plump bodies, and long legs and neck, male Great Bustards have grey heads with long white, bristly moustaches. Their back feathers are a richly marked rusty buff, their underparts white, and their breasts chestnut brown.
While wild turkeys inhabit woodlands and brush country with a few trees for roosts, Great Bustards frequent plains, savannahs and steppes. Both birds nest on the ground. Turkeys feed on seasonably-available seeds, grain, nuts and insects. Great Bustards scrounge for all those and small mammals reptiles and birds whenever they can. While wild turkeys make gobbling calls, Great Bustards are silent except in breeding season, when they make a sort of gruff bark.
Great Bustard hens lay one or two eggs whereas wild turkey hens lay clutches of up to 15. Wild turkey numbers have responded to protection and game management in the United States, while Great Bustards remain extinct in many parts of their historic ranges and their numbers are in decline in most other places. An occasional vagrant Great Bustard may pass through the Holy Land, but we are unlikely to witness their reestablishment there.