Your sort of gorgeousness, Dark and lustrous And unfathomable And poopy-glossy, Is the gorgeousness that evokes my darkest admiration (Excerpt from “Turkey-Cock” by D.H. Lawrence)
Recently, a small flock of wild turkeys has been visiting our house.
These large birds walk down our driveway, cross the yard, and head towards the woods. They often stop at the edge of the deck to forage for the sunflower seeds that the blue jays have thrown out of the feeder. When foraging the turkeys scratch the ground with their feet to uncover seeds, then peck at the ground to pick them up.
For anyone who hasn’t seen a wild turkey, they are a dark colored bird with an iridescent bronze-green plumage on the chest, white bars on their wing feathers, and tail feathers that are tipped in light brown, or rust color. They also have a bald head and neck, which gives them a unique appearance.
As they walk, turkeys leave pretty distinct tracks. They have three toes that face forward and you can sometimes see a back toe. Since turkeys travel in flocks, there will often be several sets of tracks together.
Although turkeys prefer to walk, they are able to fly. I usually only see them fly when they have been startled, or when the dog and I scare them out of their overnight roost in the tree tops.
Benjamin Franklin and the Wild Turkey
There is a story that you hear every now and again that Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the symbol of the United States. Well, it turns out that story isn’t exactly true.
This story, which has its origins in a letter that Franklin wrote to his daughter, starts with Franklin criticizing the look of the bald eagle on the Great Seal saying that the eagle looked like a turkey.(2) This criticism, however, is just the beginning of this story.
The story really takes hold when Franklin criticizes the choice of the bird based on its behavior.
“He [The bald eagle] 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.”(3)
Compare this to what Franklin wrote about the wild 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.”(3)
So even though it seems Franklin may have not directly recommended that the United States adopt the turkey as the symbol of the nation, he did suggest that the turkey’s character was more aligned with the new country’s values.
To add to this story, artist Anatole Kovarsky created an illustration for the New Yorker which depicts a turkey in the center of the Great Seal.(2)
This illustration was published about 168 years after Franklin’s death, so it isn’t directly linked to Franklin’s letter to his daughter. But it does add a nice element to this turkey tale.
- D.H. Lawrence; “Turkey-Cock”: Poetry Foundation
- Jimmy Stamp; “American Myths: Benjamin Franklin’s Turkey and the Presidential Seal”: Smithsonianmag.com
- Franklin Institute; Benjamin Franklin FAQs
- All About Birds; Wild Turkey: Cornell Lab
Naturalist Weekly runs on coffee and a passion for writing, and your donation will keep the coffee pot full and the content flowing.