Greetings all my jakes and jennies, and Happy Thanksgiving! Our national day of feast is nearly upon us so as you prepare to enjoy family, football, and food here are nine fun facts about the fowl at the center of it all.
Was the Turkey almost our national bird, due to lobbying by Ben Franklin? No, but he wasn’t psyched about the bald eagle, either.
The idea of Big Ben pushing for the turkey to be our national symbol is a perpetuated myth, mostly. There were four different committees between 1776 and 1782 to propose and design a national seal. The first committee was comprised of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin but his design featured Moses standing on the shore of the Red Sea drowning the Pharaoh and his men. After the fourth committee had settled on the eagle design, using elements from the three previous proposals, Franklin did comment in a 1784 letter to his daughter on his doubts about the values symbolized by the eagle, ending with a passing comment that it looked more like a turkey, perhaps a more suitable icon:
Excerpt from Ben Franklin’s letter to his daughter, 1784
“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.”
A group of turkeys is a called a rafter, a gang, or a posse.
Yes, turkeys can fly.
And they can reach speeds of up to 55 MPH. They can also run up to 25 MPH.
Turkey the bird is named after Turkey the country, accidentally.
Ever wonder how it would come to be that a country in Eastern Europe (Europe and Asia, to be accurate) would share a name with a bird native to North America? Well here’s the deal with that: Turkey the country, officially adopted after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, takes its name from the Turks, the ethnic group populating the area since the first century. The erroneous piece of this cross-continental conundrum derives from a bird that looks like a North American turkey but is originally native to eastern Africa and then Europe by transplant, the guinea fowl. Due to its predominance in the Ottoman region the guinea fowl was also referred to as a turkey-cock or turkey-hen and when Europeans found similar birds in the New World they immediately took to also calling them turkeys. It’s a little like how Native Americans are called Indians because our European forefathers (whichever generation you’d like to accredit) thought they had landed in India.
It is one of four different caruncles (“a fleshy excrescence, as on the head of a bird”) that make up the fleshy head and face of a wild turkey. The one on their beak is called a Snood and contributes to the sexual attraction process. The longer your snood the better, if you know what I’m saying.
Varying between red, white, and blue (interesting, eh?) a tom’s fleshy face changes based on excitement or danger. Scientists at UCal Berkeley have recently developed a “synthetic toxin sensor” based on turkey technology to detect chemicals like TNT.
Did the silly ceremony of presidential turkey pardons start with Truman? No, he ate his.
President Truman in 1947 was the first to receive an annual ceremonial turkey from the newly formed National Turkey Federation (yes, they exist), but he and his family gobbled it down. JFK in 1963 was the first president known to “let this one grow” and in 1989 George H. W. Bush formalized the pardoning ceremony which continues to this day with a fake secret service motorcade and its own seal.
For the animal lover in your life, you can Adopt a Turkey.
Domestic turkeys live a very different life from their wild brethren. Bred over time for food, most cannot fly and their “factory farm” conditions regularly draw the ire of animal rights activists. For a $30 sponsorship, the Adopt a Turkey program from Farm Sanctuary rescues turkeys from these environments, allowing them to live a free and natural life. I love turkeys, I think they’re delicious but if Jon Stewart is passionate about it I can at least promote the cause.
Here’s video of baby turkeys: