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Turkeys have been widespread and successful since the early Miocene (23 million years ago).  Since their robust bones fossilize quite well, a number of extinct turkeys are known to paleo-ornithologists (including two genera which do not exist today, the “Rhegminornis” and “Proagriocharis”).

The best known of these vanished turkeys is the Californian Turkey, Meleagris californica, which died out about ten to twelve thousand years ago as the ice ages ended and human settlements became common.  The Californian turkey had a shorter beak and a stockier build than contemporary turkeys but it was a similar creature and probably shared many of the habits and vocalizations familiar to us.  Its remains have been discovered profusely in the tar pits of southern California, where it must have been preyed on by the great carnivores of that Pleistocene.  Californian turkey bones have also been found in camp middens of ice age humans, whose love of succulent turkey dinners may have combined with climate change to usher the poor birds to extinction.

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