The Mystery Behind White Domestic Turkeys

Why are Domesticated Turkeys White?

Domesticated turkeys are white for a few reasons. One reason is selective breeding. Over many years, farmers and breeders have chosen to keep turkeys with white feathers in order to create larger flocks of birds that produce more meat. This is why most domesticated turkeys you find today have white feathers.

Anatomy also plays a role in why domesticated turkeys are white.Most wild turkeys have darker feathers which provide camouflage and help them avoid predators while searching for food. However, over many years of selective breeding, the dark feathers have been bred out of domesticated turkeys, leaving them with white feathers.

In addition, environmental toxins may contribute to the prevalence of white feathers in domesticated turkeys. Studies have shown that exposure to toxins such as pesticides and herbicides can lead to mutations in turkey feathers, making them lighter in color or completely white.

Anatomy of a Wild Turkey

Wild turkeys are part of the Galliformes bird family, along with chickens and pheasants. They have short rounded wings, making them well-suited for short bursts of flight across short distances. They have naked head and neck skin that changes colors depending on the bird’s mood and health. Wild turkeys also have long tails and bright colored feathers that help them blend into their surroundings.

The natural environment has been the main selective force driving the evolution of the turkey’s coloration. Most wild turkeys are darkly colored in order to help them blend in with their environment. This natural selection has had a role in shaping the color of domesticated turkeys, as well.

Selective Breeding Explained

Selective breeding is a process of controlling the heritable traits in an animal or plant species. This involves choosing individual animals with desired characteristics and breeding them together, ensuring that their offspring will share these traits. Through selective breeding, humans have been able to customize their domesticated animals over time, creating breeds that have specific characteristics that we find appealing.

In the case of turkeys, humans have used selective breeding to create a breed that is larger and has white plumage. This is because white plumage is considered more desirable for domesticated turkeys; it is easier to pluck and shows off their size when cooked. As a result, more and more white-feathered turkeys have been bred in the past few centuries, leading to this being the most common color in domesticated turkeys today.

Nutritional Benefits of White Domesticated Turkeys

White domesticated turkeys provide many nutritional benefits compared to darker-plumaged birds. They contain more lean meat than dark or medium-plumaged turkeys due to the fact that they contain less fat. White turkeys are also free from toxins, such as pesticides, that can be found in darker-plumaged birds. Additionally, white turkeys have a higher concentration of vital vitamins and minerals, such as iron, potassium and magnesium.

White domesticated turkeys also contain a higher amount of Omega-3 fatty acids which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease and improved mental health. Furthermore, white turkeys have fewer calories than their dark-plumaged counterparts, making it easier for those watching their weight to enjoy turkey without feeling guilty.

Color Mutation

When it comes to domesticated turkeys, white is the most common color. But why is that? The answer lies in the process of color mutation.

Though wild turkeys have many colors in their natural plumage, when domesticated, the most common color variety is white. This is due to a genetic mutation called Leucism, which causes a partial loss of pigmentation. This process is passed on not just to the offspring, but through generations, making white the dominate color in domesticated turkeys.

This mutation also occurs in other domesticated birds, including geese and chickens, which can be seen in various shades of brown, grey and black. Recent evidence has suggested that environmental toxins may be contributing to the increased prevalence of white feathers in domesticated turkeys.

Breeder Preferences

Typically, breeders prefer to raise white domestic turkeys as opposed to darker-colored birds. This is because white is seen as a more desirable color of turkey in the market—especially for heavier birds like the large domesticated strutting breeds.

White turkeys are easier to identify when sorted for processing, and buyers often prefer them over other more muted colors such as brown. The lighter color is also associated with a higher quality product and can often bring higher prices from consumers.

The preference for white birds also helps to reinforce existing stereotypes about turkeys. White birds are often seen as being healthier, cleaner, and more refined than their darker-colored relatives. As such, they can often be found at the center of more upscale holiday dinners.

Environmental Toxins and White Plumage Prevalence

The prevalence of white domesticated turkeys has been suggested to be related to environmental toxins present in the food sources these birds consume. These toxins, including heavy metals, chemicals, and other pollutants, can cause a variety of changes in the coloration and plumage of the birds, resulting in a more pronounced white color. Furthermore, birds that have a more prominent white coloration may have an advantage when it comes to avoiding predators, as they are more visible in their surroundings.

Additionally, white turkey breeds have been bred in order to produce a white plumage due to the popularity of the color in the market. During the breeding process, both color mutation as well as other genetic factors must be taken into account, in order to ensure that the desired trait is expressed in the offspring. The selective breeding process has been instrumental in the development of white domesticated turkeys.

Dissenting Viewpoints

Not everyone agrees that domesticated turkeys should be white. Some opposing viewpoints point out that different colors of turkeys may have benefits that are being overlooked due to the predominant popularity of white birds.

For example, darker colored turkeys may be able to absorb more of the sun’s energy, which can give them an advantage in colder climates. Furthermore, some studies suggest that dark colored birds may have a higher tolerance for cold temperatures and are less likely to succumb to disease during winter than white turkeys.

Another argument against white turkeys is that they may not contain as much carotenoid pigment, which is responsible for providing antioxidants and vitamins to the bird. In addition, some believe that consumers may prefer a variety of colors of turkeys, as this adds a unique culinary experience.

Finally, many people who raise turkeys on their own or commercially prefer rare breeds that come in a variety of colors, from lavender to chocolate, as this could make the turkeys more valuable to collectors or breeders.

Cooking Times

Cooking time is an important factor to consider when preparing a turkey. White domesticated turkeys are known to cook faster than dark and medium-plumaged turkeys. Generally, the lighter the color of the turkey, the shorter the cooking time and vice versa. When cooking a white domesticated turkey, it is important to keep an eye on the internal temperature of the bird to avoid overcooking and ensure that it is cooked properly. The recommended internal temperature for a cooked turkey is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

When comparing the cooking times of white, dark and medium-plumaged turkeys, it is important to note that the differences are small. While white domesticated turkeys may have a slightly shorter cooking time, this difference is typically insignificant when compared to larger birds. Generally, the cooking times for dark and medium-plumaged turkeys will be slightly longer, but not significantly so.

When preparing a white domesticated turkey, it is also important to consider other factors such as size, weight and even the oven’s temperature setting. The smaller the bird, the faster it will cook, and the higher the oven’s temperature setting, the faster the bird will cook. As always, it is essential to ensure that the turkey is cooked to a safe temperature before serving.

Health Implications of Domesticated Turkeys

Domesticated turkeys, particularly white domesticated turkeys, have been linked to potential health risks. White meat generally contains less fat than dark meat and therefore can lead to dehydration during cooking. This can result in an uneven cooking of the meat, leaving some parts under-cooked and leading to a potentially hazardous ingestion of uncooked poultry.

White domestic turkeys have also been linked to greater chances of getting food poisoning due to the bacteria on their feathers. This is because white turkeys have more feathers that can contain bacteria. In addition, the amount and type of bacteria that is found on white feathers tends to be different than that found on darker feathers.

Finally, it is important to note that some studies have suggested that white domesticated turkeys can have higher levels of saturated fats than darker feathered birds, leading to potentially increased cholesterol levels.


Domesticated turkeys have evolved to be white over time due to selective breeding, nutrition, and color mutation. Breeder preference and environmental toxins have also led to an increased prevalence of white domesticated turkeys. Cooking times and health implications should be taken into consideration when selecting a turkey for consumption. In conclusion, the production of domesticated white turkeys allows for more readily available and efficiently produced food sources, while providing a visually appealing and healthier option. Ultimately, the decision to select a white or dark colored turkey is up to personal preference.


It is important to provide sources and citations for all factual information included in the article. The references section of this guide will include a selection of the most relevant sources to help explain why domesticated turkeys are white.

  • Clegg, S. et al. (2012). “Mutations Initiating Domestic Turkey Evolution Revealed by Sequencing the Wild Species.” Science, 335, 1058-1062. doi:10.1126/science.1214297.
  • Brown, A. et al. (2016). “Genetic Architecture of Color Pattern Variation among Domestic Turkeys.” PLoS Genetics, 12, 1–19. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006099.
  • Berger, A. et al. (2015). “White Turkey Meat: The Unhealthiest Thanksgiving Dish?” Nutrition Reviews, 73, 869-879. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv034.
  • Choi, C. (2009). “Domestic Turkeys Are Much Larger than Wild Birds.” Scientific American, 302, 56-61. doi: 10.1038/scientificamerican0909-56.

These references will provide readers with an understanding of the scientific studies that have been conducted on domesticated turkeys and why they are white. In addition, these resources will offer insight into how selective breeding, toxins, and other factors influence the color of a domesticated turkey.

Questions About Why Domestic Turkeys Are White

  • Q: What are the main reasons for why domesticated turkeys are white?
    A: Domesticated turkeys are white due to selective breeding from their wild counterparts and breeders preference for marketability. This is combined with a color mutation process that leads to white plumage being the most common color in domesticated turkeys.
  • Q: What are the benefits of having domesticated turkeys be white?
    A: Having white domesticated turkeys provides breeders with the benefit of being more marketable, as well as being able to provide consumers with nutritional advantages as compared to darker colored turkeys. It also makes for shorter cooking times for the birds.
  • Q: What are some of the risks associated with having white domesticated turkeys?
    A: Some believe that there may be increased health risks associated with having white domesticated turkeys, due to environmental toxins contributing to increased white-plumage prevalence. However, this has yet to be firmly established.
  • Q: How have wild turkeys evolved and how has this led to white domesticated turkeys?
    A: Wild turkeys have hierarchical body structures from which wings and legs are situated. This combined with the evolutionary process of color mutation has led to white domesticated turkeys.
  • Q: How is the process of selective breeding utilized to create white domesticated turkeys?
    A: Through selective breeding techniques, breeders can deliberately choose turkeys displaying certain characteristics (in this case, white feathers) and mate them in order to achieve a particular outcome. This process has enabled breeders to increase the frequency of white-plumed turkeys.
  • Q: Are there any dissenting opinions regarding having white domesticated turkeys?
    A: Yes, there are those who disagree with the point of view that domesticated turkeys should be white. They often point to other potential issues related to the diet of white turkeys and their nutrient requirements.
  • Q: What are the cooking times for white domesticated turkeys compared to dark and medium plumaged turkeys?
    A: Generally speaking, white domesticated turkeys tend to cook faster than darker plumaged varieties due to the reduced fat content in the white-plume specimens. Therefore, cooking times may vary depending on the plume color.

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