Let’s learn about why turkeys are dinosaurs

All modern birds evolved from meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods

a crowd of turkeys peer around in random directions

Though not as fearsome as their distant T. rex cousins, turkeys are dinosaurs, too.

Nick David/Getty Images

Here’s a fun fact for the Thanksgiving dinner table: Did you know that all modern birds, including turkeys, are dinosaurs?

Today’s feathered flyers descended from a group of meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods. That group also included famous hunters like Tyrannosaurus rex — although birds evolved from T. rex’s much smaller relatives. Birds first emerged about 150 million years ago, in the Jurassic Period. And they’re the only dinosaurs to have survived a mass extinction event 66 million years ago.

So if you celebrate Thanksgiving, you’re not just tucking into a turkey. You’re digging into a dinosaur. Happy Reverse Jurassic Park Day, everyone!

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

This ancient bird rocked a head like a T. rex This bird from 120 million years ago had a head like a dinosaur and a body more like today’s birds. (6/12/2023) Readability: 7.6

Early dinosaurs may have laid soft-shelled eggs Scientists for the first time have turned up evidence of fossils from soft-shelled dinosaur eggs. This has scientists rethinking how dinosaur eggs evolved. (8/3/2020) Readability: 7.8

These fuzz-covered flying reptiles had catlike whiskers The dinosaurs in Jurassic World may be as smooth as any modern-day lizard, but real dinos would have looked much different. Many were covered in protofeathers. (2/4/2019) Readability: 7.9

Birds’ small size, diverse diets or ability to fly might explain why they’re the only surviving dinosaurs.

Explore more

Scientists Say: Dinosaur

Scientists Say: Jurassic

Explainer: How a fossil forms

Let’s learn about dinosaur extinction

This extinct bird boasted dinosaur-like teeth

Weird new dino looked more like a duck

Hefty dinosaurs had a trick for sitting on eggs safely

Dinosaur tail preserved in amber — feathers and all

Defining a dinosaur is now far harder

Scientists are rethinking the dinosaur family tree

How to tell if a T. rex is expecting

T. rex pulverized bones with an incredible amount of force


Word find

Want to learn more about the modern dinosaurs all around you? Go birding! A few apps can help you recognize the birds in your area. To identify bird species with Merlin Bird ID, just answer a few questions, record a sound clip or snap a picture. The Audubon Bird Guide likewise helps users identify birds and share their observations.

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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