AUSTIN (KXAN) — Does anyone really like turkey or is it something we all pretend to like?

Unless deep fried or slathered in excess spices, turkey is a bland, dry and flavorless affair. So why must we subject ourselves to this busty bird each Thanksgiving? Why is turkey, of all things, the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece?

While many trace the relationship between turkey and Thanksgiving to the “first Thanksgiving” in the 1600s, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Colonizers wrote about wild turkeys in the Americas as far back as 1525, according to Early Spanish explorers would ship them back to Europe around this time. By the end of the 16th century, turkey became a common dish in England.

However, it wasn’t popular in the colonies for a couple more decades.

The ‘first Thanksgiving’ and turkey

Meals celebrating the fall harvest were commonplace in the colonies. At one of these meals, called the “first Thanksgiving,” pilgrims at the Plymouth colony shared a meal with the nearby Wampanoag people. Turkey was likely not served.

Writing of that fateful meal says the menu consisted of deer and “wild fowl.” While the turkey was a wild bird, experts believe this is in reference to ducks or geese. According to, turkeys weren’t a common meal at the time.

This meal wasn’t actually that special. It was described in a single letter by colonist Edward Winslow. Otherwise, there’s no mention of it. Turkeys, however, were mentioned several times in descriptions of the colony itself.

A bunch of turkeys

Over the next few centuries, the birds took off. Turkeys were plentiful in the colonies with some estimating there were around 10 million of the birds on the East Coast.

Turkey also served little function outside of an oven. Unlike cows that produce milk and chickens that produce eggs, turkeys just produce an annoying sound and can be eaten, according to

The bird was also big and could feed a whole family. Many other types of meat at the time were not in large enough supply to do that. Turkey is also cheap and can be bred easily.

Thus, the bird became a popular dish. According to, the bird became so popular it was almost driven to extinction by the 20th century. In Massachusetts, the last wild turkey was believed to have been killed in 1821.

Today, the wild turkey is numerous. They can be found in nearly every state.

Why Thanksgiving and turkey?

You can blame the association between turkey and Thanksgiving on a couple of things. Many sources cite author Sarah Josepha Hale as the “godmother of Thanksgiving.” Her book Northwood describes a New England Thanksgiving with a line about a roasted turkey being at “the head of the table.”

Before the Civil War, Hale became one of the chief proponents of a national holiday. She convinced President Lincoln to make it official in 1863.

Other sources cite the migration of people from the New England area and East Coast. As people traveled south and westward, they brought their dishes with them. This included turkey, pumpkin pie and many other common Thanksgiving dishes.