Tonawanda News

November 19, 2012

CRITTER COMPANIONS: It's all relative: Wishing on a bone

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — While I never had a turkey, I did have the other 66 percent of the so-called turducken as pets. Ducks and chickens were definitely some of my favorites. The breeds I had ranged from the ordinary to the extreme.

Some ducks were mallard color (strangely enough called grey) and some were grey (called blue). Others had spots and some looked like bowling pins. The chickens also came in all shapes, sizes and colors. 

They were “farm birds,” but they were my pets and I would have never imagined eating them. Although, come November I would hear lots of bad jokes. What I learned from those jokes was that some people thought birds were not interesting and only meant for the table.

If not birds, then their scaly extinct relatives, are quite popular. Dinosaurs always seem to be trendy, from preschoolers to paleontologist. Maybe it is because of their mystique, size, intriguing history or their behavior. 

Dinosaurs are popular which should equate to popularity for modern birds. Did you know that turkeys are distant relatives of the tyrannosaurus rex? Like birds, dinosaurs also walked on their toes, and many dinosaurs had three toes pointing forward and one backwards. 

Since the work of paleontologist John Ostrom in 1969 there have been 90 features described which relate birds to dinosaurs. Other features include scaly legs, the ability to lay eggs, nesting behavior, thin-walled bones and a similar respiratory system and pulmonary air sacs. Another similarity is that t. rex and the bird that may be on your table both have a wish bone.

At least 2,400 years ago people started playing with their food. The Etruscans, who lived in Italy (roughly modern day Tuscany), believed chickens were mediums because the hen would proclaim she would be laying an egg with a call and the rooster would crow, if a new day was coming, early in the morning.

The Etruscans would draw a board of twenty squares with one letter in each of the squares, representing their alphabet. They would place a piece of grain in each of the squares and then let a hen peck at them. A scribe would write down the letters that the hen chose and then high priests would interpret the meanings. The hen would be killed and its collarbone would be left outside in the hot sun to dry. The bone was considered sacred and everyone was allowed to hold it and make a wish, which is where the term wishbone originated from. It must be an American tradition or in the Thanksgiving spirit, that now we only allow one person to make a wish — the person with the larger half of the wishbone.

Some people believe that “I need a lucky break” or “I never get a break” originated from the breaking of the wishbone. The English heard of this ancient Roman superstition and brought it to the Americas. When they found turkeys bountiful in the woods, they changed the custom from chickens to turkeys.

Americans and turkeys seem to go hand and hand. We even invented a few turkey idioms, one of which is “cold turkey.” It dates back to at least 1910 referring to doing something without preparation, like making a cold turkey dish. Then in 1922 it referred to drug addicts trying to quit without preparation. As an addict quits there body becomes cold and their skin looks like a turkeys!

Don’t do drugs, kids.

Another U.S.-born phrase is “talk turkey.” With the exact origin unknown, it was recorded as early as 1824. The meaning of the phrase has shifted as it use to mean to talk pleasantries and now mostly means to talk about the facts and to be frank. The phrase most likely comes about through talking openly with family around the Thanksgiving table, with the turkey in the center.

So open up and let the fowl language fly around this Thanksgiving.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to birdbehaviorconsultant@yahoo.com, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.