At this time in years past, I have posted information about turkeys so you can sustain table talk on Thanksgiving once everyone has thoroughly hashed sports and politics.

2017 Twelve No-Fail Conversation Starters Regarding Wishbones.

2018 It Takes a Turkey to Call a Turkey.

2019 Wishbone-related Topics to Bring Up (Or Not) at Thanksgiving.

2021 A Bone-Lover’s Thanksgiving Nightmare.

2922 White meat or dark meat?

If you need fresh material this year, consider the answer to the title question, which is, “Ask to see the wishbone.” Here’s why.

This past summer, an outdoorsman friend of mine in Alaska sent me this bone, which he had picked up on the tide flats in Prince William Sound. No other bones were around to help identify this one’s original owner, and neither one of us had previously seen anything similar. By its heft, color, and appearance, it was clearly bone, but it did not have any areas where it would have contacted other bones. Hmmm… I sent photos of this mystery bone to several friends of mine at natural history museums. Even though several were experts in dinosaurs or other unlikely suspects, I asked them to forward the images to any of their colleagues who might be able to help. They did. It is a furcula, i.e., wishbone, but clearly not from a turkey. (The furcula is a fusion of the collar bones seen in most birds and some non-avian dinosaurs. In birds, it strengthens the breast bone and ribs to facilitate flight.) (Disclosing these facts alone should get you respect and extra pumpkin pie.)

The Idaho Virtual Museum includes a treasure trove of beautifully photographed individual bones from nearly 200 mammals and 100 birds, many courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. The mystery bone looks quite similar to the furcula images for the Canada goose and the tundra swan, both of which could plausibly be in the vicinity of Prince William Sound.

Next, I wondered, where does this sizeable bone reside in these long-necked creatures, under the chin or near the ribs? I stumbled on this image of an extinct New Zealand swan, which reveals the answer.

I also discovered that far beyond the iconic shape of chickens’ and turkeys’ wishbones, furculas come in a wide variety of shapes, which may not make them particularly useful for making wishes, but at least they can suggest the provenance of the bird at your holiday feast.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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