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Turkey Considered for National Bird

Dear Bird Folks,

This may be an early colonist’s version of an urban legend, but I read that Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the Wild Turkey to be the national bird of the United States, instead of the Bald Eagle. Is that true? -Craig, Kingston, NY


Nope, it’s not true, Craig,

Franklin never lobbied for the turkey. How’s that for an instant answer? I’m in a hurry this week.

While it’s true that Ben Franklin wasn’t happy with Congress’s choice of the Bald Eagle for our national bird, it’s unlikely that he actually “lobbied” on behalf of the turkey. I know that most turkey lovers spin the story differently but my sources, who will remain unnamed, paint a different picture of how this all went down.

After Congress had made its decision, Franklin merely suggested that the turkey would have been a better choice than the Bald Eagle. In his eyes the eagle was nothing more than a scrounge and a mooch, and in some ways he was right. Bald Eagles do hunt, but they often scavenge and are more than happy to steal food from any creature it can. Franklin may not have lobbied for the Wild Turkey over the eagle, but I wish he had. Here’s why.

First of all, our national bird should not have “bald” in its name. Believe me, of all people, I’m the last one who will diss the follicly-challenged. I feel their pain. But back in Franklin’s day, the United States was a young country. For better or worse, balding is the sign of aging, not of youth. The last thing the brand spanking new USA needed was to align itself with a bald bird. It’s too old school and it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world.

Another problem is that after closer investigation, the Bald Eagle isn’t even bald. Its head is totally covered in white feathers. Claiming to be bald just to impress Congress is clearly fraudulent. It’s like drinking with a fake ID. The Wild Turkey, on the other hand, truly is bald and proud of it. Like Kojak and Mr. Clean, the turkey’s baldness only makes it more self-confident. It struts around with its chest puffed out, ready to take on all comers. It’s the perfect image for a cocky new country.

Speaking of feathers, the Bald Eagle has nothing but a basic color scheme. It has brown feathers and white feathers, and that’s it. Pitiful. The turkey has a large variety of differently colored feathers. Its huge tail can be fanned out to display an assortment of rust, tan and warm brown shading, while its body is some kind of indescribable metallic color. But it’s the head of the turkey that really sets it apart from most other birds. Depending on the mood or attitude, the coloring of the bird’s face can change from white to red to blue (really). How much more patriotic can a bird get? A turkey’s face also has something very important that no eagle has. It has a hunk of skin – called a “snood” – hanging from its forehead. After the American Revolution, this country was desperate to impress other nations, especially England. Nothing would have impressed the Brits more than knowing that our national bird had its own snood.

In a foot race a turkey would blow an eagle away. While the turkey can run in excess of twenty MPH, the best an eagle can do on land is stumble about. Eagles can’t run and they walk awkwardly as if they are wearing some other bird’s shoes, on the wrong feet. Turkeys are capable of flight speeds that approach fifty-five MPH. Though an eagle may fly over one hundred MPH, it can only hit those speeds in a dive, which means gravity is doing most of the work. It doesn’t get points for that.

Many eagle lovers may say that the eagle’s hunting skills are a sign of bravery and toughness. After all, eagles are capable of catching and eating animals as large as a raccoon, a beaver, or a young deer. So what? Wild Turkeys eat mostly vegetable matter. Take it from me, nothing is tougher or braver than facing three meals of vegetarian food day after day.

When it comes to reproducing, turkeys have it all over eagles. A single mother turkey can easily hatch and raise a dozen or more baby turkeys all by herself. In a good year a Bald Eagle pair will most likely raise only two eaglets. If a third chick should hatch, the big, muscular eagle parents become so overwhelmed that they often let the extra chick starve. Nice, eh?

Let’s not forget about the turkey trot. Has there ever been a dance named after the Bald Eagle? I’ve never heard of the eagle trot, eagle tango, or eagle rumba. Finally, there is talking turkey. When we want to be honest and candid, we talk turkey. Nobody talks eagle.

No, Craig, Ben Franklin didn’t lobby for the Wild Turkey to be our national bird, but he should have; it’s a better choice. However, even I have to admit that upon landing on the moon, if instead of saying: “Houston…the Eagle has landed,” Neil Armstrong, had said: “Houston…the Turkey has landed,” it would have lost some of the historical impact. But it would have been funnier.