Turkey Teeth: Everything You Need To Know

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: October 3, 2022
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The turkey is a bird from the order Galliformes and the family Phasianidae. Scientifically known as “Meleagris,” they are some of the most popular birds ever and can be found all over the world. While there are wild turkeys, most people are familiar with domesticated turkeys that are intentionally bred to be eaten during special occasions. 

As we mentioned earlier, a great number of the world’s turkey population are bred to be eaten. And much of the breeding involves constant feeding so they can grow to the desired size. While they obviously have mouths and pointy beaks, turkeys do not seem to have any visible teeth. Are their teeth hidden somewhere within their bodies or do they not have teeth at all? In this article, we will answer these questions explicitly while also providing other related details. Shall we?

Do Turkeys Have Teeth?

Types of Big Birds

Like most birds, turkeys do not have teeth.

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Dentition is very crucial to the physiology and existence of many mammals and human beings. Being toothless as an individual human being will make life way more difficult than it already is. However, there are animals that actually do not have teeth and one of such animals is the turkey. 

Much like most other birds, turkeys do not have teeth or anything that can accurately be called a tooth. What they have are their beaks which they use to pick up their food and eat.

What Do Turkeys Have In Place Of Teeth?

Turkeys have beaks in place of teeth.

©Brent Coulter/Shutterstock.com

For animals and humans that have teeth, their teeth basically help them to chew and digest food and also do some cutting and biting where necessary. Since turkeys do not have teeth, what do they have in place of teeth that can carry out these chewing and breaking-down functions?

While turkeys don’t have teeth, they make use of something called grit which they use in breaking down ingested food and makes their digestion much easier. Also, like most birds, they also have a gizzard which is responsible for grinding their food before it lands in their small intestines. 

This is why people who own domesticated turkeys are always advised to have enough grit in their diet which will invariably aid digestion. Grit stays in the gizzard until the food is properly ground into digestible particles. 

How Exactly Do Turkeys Eat?

Since turkeys do not have teeth, it’s hard to imagine them eating properly, especially from a human perspective. However, they eat just fine and they have a natural feeding mechanism that aids their overall digestion. 

When turkeys find a food source, they strike the food with their beak or bill with the aim of breaking it down into smaller articles. This activity is known as pecking and is very common with most birds. 

Once they have the broken down pieces, they pick them up with their beaks and swallow them after which the food travels to the crop. The crop is a storage pouch somewhere around the neck of the bird that looks something like a small balloon. All of the food they eat during the day stays right there in conjunction with bacteria and water. The reason for this is that turkeys, especially wild ones who are constantly faced with predators, typically do not spend time chewing food. Instead, they keep the food right there in the crop until they can conveniently break down and digest the food. 

The food stored in the crop during the day will then make its way down to the stomach where it interacts with some digestive enzymes and finally to the gizzard. The gizzard crushes the food together into small pieces by “contracting and churning.” The smithereens then move into the small intestine where the nutrients are sopped up and taken in.

The rest of the food will then move to the ceca where some more bacteria are added into the mix for a further breakdown. It is then transferred to the large intestine and gets through to the cloaca where waste is finally ejected. 

Please note that grits are introduced into the turkey’s diet and they work with gizzards. Also, food can remain in the crop for up to 12 hours. 

Can Turkeys Bite?

For any living creature to bite effectively, a functional tooth is required. Imagine a totally toothless human trying to bite; it would be a futile effort, wouldn’t it? So also, turkeys cannot bite because they do not have teeth. 

Now, turkeys are known to flare up in anger, spread their wings, and attack humans. While this indeed happens, the worst the turkey can do is cause a small injury by pecking you with its beaks. 

While we don’t advise annoying them deliberately, turkeys really can’t cause any serious injury with their mouths because they are toothless. 

What Do Turkeys Eat?

What do turkeys eat
Turkeys eat seeds, grains, vegetables, and insects.

Turkeys are omnivorous creatures, which basically means they eat both plants and meats. Their diet includes seeds, nuts, grains, vegetables, fruits, insects, fish, snails, and lizards. People who live with turkeys would attest to the fact they love roaming around to forage and find anything they can munch on. You would often find them turning over leaves and taking apart dirt in search of food. 

Domesticated turkeys are fed with commercial feed that contains all the nutrients they need to grow in weight and size. However, much like wild turkeys, if given the chance to roam, they spend time foraging and looking for insects, seeds, and other food sources in outdoor places. 

Do Turkeys Have Predators?

Despite their overall aggressive look, turkeys also have predators and can hardly defend themselves when they are preyed upon. They can’t even retaliate with bites, because, again, they are toothless. 

In the wild, predators include snakes, raccoons, foxes, big cats, wolves, coyotes, and some wild dogs. And of course, domesticated turkeys are technically preyed upon by humans who feed them so they can grow big enough, just in time for illustrious events and celebrations like Thanksgiving. 

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © nbiebach/Shutterstock.com

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