Meleagris gallopavo

Audubon Turkey

Turkeys are native to North America and were first domesticated by the Aztecs. Turkey was probably not the main dish at the first Thanksgiving; it was more likely venison and small game were on the menu. Benjamin Franklin questioned the choice of the Bald Eagle as the national symbol and seems to think the turkey a better choice.

“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.”

Read more:


Turkeys have a reputation for being really stupid, at least the domesticated variety (Wild turkeys on the other hand, are very canny.) The word ‘turkey’ has entered our vocabulary to mean “someone or something of little appeal; dud, loser, or a naive stupid, or inept person.
Inevitably the turkey appears in political cartoons as far back as the 19th century.

1850s election turkey

This one from the Library of Congress digital collections, refers to the contest between Franklin Pierce and Winifield Scott.

More recently,  the satirists are alive and well:


Turkey voters

For other interesting facts see the following:

For those with an economic bent, statistics on the annual production of turkey can be found at the USDA Economic Research Service:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has basic information about wild turkey: range, behavior, habitat, even a sound recording.

An episode of Nature sheds light on turkey behavior in My Life as a Turkey:

The library has access, through the Library of Michigan, to the Culinary Arts Collection,  where one may find recipes for cooking turkey.

Lastly, just for a chuckle, a droll Gary Larson cartoon:


Larson turkey dinner