AMERICAN TURKEYS

Of all the Thanksgiving symbols the Turkey has become the most well known. The wild turkey is native to northern Mexico and the eastern United States The turkey has brown features with buff-colored feathers on the tips of the wing and on the tail. The male turkey is called a Tom and, as with most birds, is bigger and has brighter and more colorful plumage. The female is called a Hen and is generally smaller and drab in color. The Tom turkey has a long wattle (a fleshy, wrinkled, brightly colored fold of skin hanging from the neck or throat)at the base of its bill and additional wattles on the neck, as well as a prominent tuft of bristles resembling a beard projecting downward from its chest.

The turkey was originally domesticated in Mexico, and was brought into Europe early in the 16th century. Since that time, turkeys have been extensively raised because of the excellent quality of their meat and eggs. Some of the common breeds of turkey in the United States are the Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, and Bourbon Red.

Early explorers to the New World quickly acquired a taste for turkey and took birds back to Europe. By the 1500s, turkeys were being raised domestically in Italy, France and England. When the Pilgrims and other settlers arrived in America, they were already familiar with raising and eating turkey and naturally included it as part of their Thanksgiving feast.

Benjamin Franklin, who proposed the turkey as the official United States' bird, was dismayed when the bald eagle was chosen over the turkey. Franklin, somewhat tongue in cheek, extends his argument to the superiority of the turkey as a symbol for the United States below.

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Personally, I'm glad that the Turkey didn't become our national bird. It would seem quite unpatriotic to devour a national symbol! Indeed, in 1999, about 273 million turkeys were raised and it is estimated that 45 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving while only 22 million were consumed at Christmas and a scant 19 million at Easter.

Here are a few little known facts about Turkeys. Only tom turkeys gobble while hen turkeys make a clicking noise. Furthermore, domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 20 miles per hour. The month of June is National Turkey Lovers' Month!

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