Was The Turkey Almost The National Bird

Last Updated on September 7, 2023 by Susan Levitt

Have you ever wondered why the turkey is so closely associated with Thanksgiving in America? It turns out that this bird almost became the national symbol of the United States instead of the bald eagle. In fact, Ben Franklin himself thought that turkeys were a much more fitting representation of American values.

The question of whether or not turkeys could have become our national emblem has been debated for centuries. Some historians argue that it was never a serious contender, while others believe that there was a real possibility that the turkey might have beaten out the bald eagle if things had gone differently. Regardless, exploring the history behind this debate sheds light on some fascinating aspects of early American culture and politics.

The Debate Over National Symbols In Early America

During the early debates on national symbols in America, there was much discussion about what animal should represent the country. The idea of a national animal was particularly important, as it would symbolize the values and ideals that Americans held dear.

One of the animals under consideration for this prestigious role was the turkey. Many people at the time believed that the turkey embodied all of the qualities that were necessary to be considered a true American icon. It was strong and resilient, yet also humble and unassuming – just like many Americans themselves.

Despite these arguments, however, other animals such as eagles and bison were eventually chosen over turkeys as national symbols. Some historians believe that this decision may have been influenced by factors such as political power struggles or cultural biases against certain species.

Regardless of why the turkey ultimately did not become America’s official national animal, its legacy still lives on today. From Thanksgiving dinners to presidential pardons, turkeys continue to play an important role in American culture and history.

The Bald Eagle Vs. The Turkey: A Contest For The Ages

The Bald Eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782, but the Turkey was almost chosen instead. As we consider the two birds, it’s clear the Bald Eagle has some impressive characteristics that set it apart. With its imposing wingspan and sharp eyesight, this majestic bird was a natural choice. On the other hand, the Turkey has its own attributes that make it attractive, such as its strong, sturdy legs and colorful plumage. When it comes to popularity, the Bald Eagle has a clear advantage, with its iconic status and presence in popular culture. But the Turkey has had its moments in the sun, with some people considering it more native to North America than the Bald Eagle. It’s an intriguing debate, and a contest for the ages!

Bald Eagle Characteristics

Did you know that the Bald Eagle was almost not America’s national bird? In fact, it was nearly replaced by a less majestic creature – the turkey. However, after much debate and consideration, the Bald Eagle ultimately won out due to its impressive characteristics.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Bald Eagle is its habitat. They can be found in various locations throughout North America, from Alaska to Florida. Their preference for living near large bodies of water allows them easy access to fish, which make up a significant portion of their diet.

In addition to their preferred habitat, the behavior of Bald Eagles is another reason they were chosen as our national bird. These birds are known for their impressive hunting skills and ability to soar through the air with ease. They also have a strong sense of family and are often seen nesting high in trees with their mates and offspring.

All in all, while turkeys may be interesting creatures in their own right, they simply do not possess the same awe-inspiring qualities as the Bald Eagle. From their varied habitats to their incredible behaviors, it’s clear why this magnificent bird reigns supreme as America’s symbol of freedom and strength.

Turkey Characteristics

As we’ve previously discussed, the Bald Eagle was chosen as America’s national bird over the turkey due to its impressive characteristics and behaviors. However, that doesn’t mean turkeys aren’t interesting creatures in their own right.

Turkeys are native to North America and can be found in diverse habitats such as forests, grasslands, and even deserts. They have a preference for living near open areas with trees or shrubs where they can roost at night. Turkeys are also known for their social behavior, often gathering together in large flocks during the winter months.

In terms of physical characteristics, male turkeys – or toms – are easily recognizable by their colorful feathers and wattles. These features play an important role in attracting mates during breeding season. Female turkeys – known as hens – tend to be smaller and less flashy than males.

When it comes to hunting skills, turkeys may not soar through the air like Bald Eagles, but they do possess keen senses that allow them to evade predators. Their excellent eyesight allows them to spot danger from afar while their quick reflexes help them escape quickly.

While the Bald Eagle ultimately won out as America’s national bird due to its remarkable qualities, it is worth noting that turkeys hold unique traits and behaviors that make them fascinating creatures in their own right.

Popularity Of Each Bird

As we have previously discussed, the Bald Eagle and the Turkey are two iconic birds that hold a special place in American culture. While the Bald Eagle was ultimately chosen as America’s national bird over the Turkey due to its impressive characteristics and behaviors, it is worth exploring why both birds continue to be celebrated today.

One way in which turkeys remain popular is through their association with Thanksgiving traditions. For many Americans, turkey has become synonymous with the holiday meal, often served roasted or smoked alongside stuffing and cranberry sauce. The cultural significance of this tradition extends beyond just culinary delights – for some, eating turkey on Thanksgiving represents a shared sense of gratitude and community.

On the other hand, Bald Eagles hold a unique symbolic meaning in American society. As a powerful predator known for its keen eyesight and striking appearance, this bird has come to represent qualities such as freedom, strength, and courage. It appears prominently on numerous official emblems including coins, flags and seals across various states in America.

Ultimately, while both birds hold significant cultural value within American society for different reasons; they also face challenges related to conservation efforts. Habitat loss, climate change and human activities impact these species negatively- bringing them closer towards possible extinction every day. Therefore it becomes important not only to celebrate but also protect these magnificent creatures so that future generations can appreciate them too!

Ben Franklin’s Support For The Turkey

In the previous section, we explored the heated debate between the Bald Eagle and Turkey as potential national symbols of America. While today’s Americans can’t imagine their country without its iconic eagle, it was a different story in the early days of the nation’s founding.

One influential figure who supported Turkey over the Bald Eagle was none other than Benjamin Franklin himself. As one of America’s Founding Fathers, Franklin had a deep fascination with this fascinating bird. In fact, he once wrote to his daughter that he believed the turkey "would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on."

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While many have questioned Franklin’s reasoning for supporting such an unlikely symbol for America, there is no denying that the Turkey has its own cultural significance. For centuries, Native American tribes across North America held great respect for these birds – which they viewed as powerful spiritual animals that represented abundance and fertility.

Despite ultimately losing out to the Bald Eagle as our national symbol, Turkey remains an important animal in American culture even today. From Thanksgiving dinners to presidential pardons given by every sitting US President since Truman in 1947, turkeys continue to play a significant role in American life thanks to Ben Franklin’s unwavering support all those years ago.

The Cultural Significance Of Turkeys In American History

The turkey may have missed the opportunity to become America’s national bird, but it still holds a significant place in American history. One of the most notable cultural significances of turkeys is their role in Thanksgiving traditions. Every year, millions of Americans gather around the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day for a feast that includes turkey as its centerpiece.

Turkey hunting also plays an important role in American culture and tradition. Hunting wild turkeys has been a popular pastime since colonial times, with hunters often relying on traditional techniques such as using decoys or calling to lure birds into range. Today, many states even hold annual turkey hunting seasons, attracting enthusiasts from all over the country.

In addition to being hunted for sport and food, turkeys are also revered by Native American cultures. The Cherokee believed that turkeys were sacred animals and would perform dances and ceremonies honoring them. Other tribes viewed turkeys as symbols of abundance and fertility.

Overall, while the turkey may not have become America’s national bird, its cultural significance cannot be denied. From Thanksgiving feasts to hunting expeditions to spiritual rituals, this iconic bird has left its mark on American history in more ways than one.

The Role Of Politics In National Symbolism

Politics often play a role in the selection of national symbols, and this is certainly true in the case of the United States’ national bird. While the turkey was originally favored by many for its perceived strength and national pride, it ultimately wasn’t chosen due to political motivations. Instead, the bald eagle was selected as a symbol of the nation’s strength, and the pride associated with it surely had a role in its selection. It’s safe to say that politics played a major role in this decision, and it’s certainly an interesting example of the power of politics in national symbolism.

Political Motivation

Did you know that the turkey was almost chosen as the national bird of the United States instead of the bald eagle? The decision to ultimately select the bald eagle over the turkey is a prime example of how politics plays an integral role in shaping national symbolism. Influential figures and cultural impact have long been driving factors behind this process, often leading to heated debates on what should represent a nation.

Political motivation has always played a key role in determining which symbols are embraced by a country. Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s most celebrated Founding Fathers, famously championed for the turkey to be named as the national symbol. However, his opinion was not shared by other influential figures who believed that it would be more fitting to choose an animal with greater strength and majesty – such as the bald eagle. In this case, political motivations won out against personal preferences.

This debate highlights how cultural impact can also play a significant role in shaping national symbolism. While turkeys were plentiful and commonly consumed during colonial times, they lacked any sort of cultural significance or noble qualities when compared to other animals like eagles. Eagles have long been associated with freedom and power throughout various cultures around the world, making them a natural choice for representing a new democratic nation like America.

In conclusion, political motivation and cultural impact continue to shape national symbolism even today. Every symbol carries its own set of connotations and meanings that reflect both historical context and modern values. As we move forward into an increasingly interconnected world, it will be interesting to observe how these forces interact with each other to create new symbols that accurately convey our collective identity as nations.

National Pride

As politics and culture continue to shape national symbolism, one cannot ignore the role of national pride in this process. Celebrating diversity and fostering a sense of shared identity are crucial components of building strong nations, and symbols play an integral role in these efforts.

Historical context also plays a significant part in shaping national pride through symbolism. For example, many countries have national holidays that commemorate historical events or figures who played important roles in their nation’s development. These holidays often involve displays of patriotic symbols such as flags, anthems, and other cultural artifacts that help reinforce feelings of unity and pride among citizens.

National pride can be both positive and negative, however. In some cases, it can lead to harmful forms of nationalism that exclude certain groups based on racial or ethnic differences. Therefore, it is essential for governments to strike a balance between celebrating their country’s achievements while also acknowledging past injustices and working towards greater inclusivity.

In conclusion, understanding the role of national pride in shaping symbolic representation requires recognizing how political motivations, cultural impact, and historical contexts interact with each other. By embracing a diverse range of symbols that reflect our collective identities as nations while promoting inclusivity and equality for all citizens, we can create more meaningful representations that inspire us to work together towards common goals.

Turkeys As A Symbol Of American Values

Turkeys have been an important part of American history since the Pilgrims arrived in 1620. They were a common source of food for early settlers and played a significant role in Thanksgiving traditions. However, turkeys almost became more than just a meal or holiday symbol – they nearly became America’s national bird.

In 1782, the bald eagle was chosen as the national emblem of the United States because it represented strength, freedom, and independence. But Benjamin Franklin had other ideas. He believed that the turkey should be the national bird instead of the bald eagle. In a letter to his daughter, he wrote that "the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird," citing its courage and intelligence.

Despite their near-miss at becoming a national icon, turkeys remain an important representation of American values through hunting and farming practices. Turkey hunting has long been a popular pastime in America, with millions of hunters taking to woods each year during turkey season. It requires skill and patience to track and catch these elusive birds, making it a challenging sport enjoyed by many Americans.

Turkey farming also plays an essential role in agriculture industries across America. According to the National Turkey Federation, over 240 million domesticated turkeys are raised annually in the U.S., providing jobs for thousands of people and contributing billions of dollars to local economies. The industry continues to innovate new methods for raising healthy turkeys while reducing environmental impact.

Overall, whether as potential national icons or as symbols of traditional American values like hard work and perseverance through hunting and farming practices, turkeys continue to play an important role in American culture today.

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The Legacy Of The Turkey In American Culture

Thanksgiving would not be the same without the iconic turkey. This holiday season, Americans will be celebrating Turkey Day with traditional feasts, festive decorations, and symbolic representations of gratitude. The turkey is a symbol of the abundance of the harvest season and a reminder of the importance of giving thanks. Not only does the turkey have an important place in the celebration of Thanksgiving, it has also had a lasting impact on the American cuisine. From smoked turkey, to savory turkey pot pie, the versatile bird has become a staple of the American diet. As the national bird almost, the turkey has a legacy that will continue to be celebrated for many years to come.

Turkey Day Celebrations

As the turkey sits on the center of tables during Thanksgiving dinner, it’s hard to imagine that they once almost became America’s national bird. Despite this fact, turkeys have become an integral part of American culture through Turkey Day celebrations and traditions.

Turkey themed recipes have been a staple for Thanksgiving dinners since the early 19th century. The iconic roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce is just one example of how Americans celebrate the holiday. In recent years, there has also been an increase in non-traditional turkey dishes such as deep-fried turkey or smoked turkey legs at amusement parks. These new takes on traditional dishes showcase the versatility of turkey in modern cuisine.

Thanksgiving traditions are not complete without mentioning the annual Presidential pardon given to a live turkey by the President of the United States. This tradition dates back to President George H.W. Bush who formally pardoned his first turkey in 1989. Since then, every year before Thanksgiving, a specially selected turkey is presented to the president for a ceremonial pardon instead of being served up on someone’s table.

In conclusion, while turkeys may have lost out on becoming America’s national bird, they still remain an important symbol in American culture through their association with Turkey Day celebrations and traditions. From classic roasted birds to innovative culinary creations, these feathered friends continue to play a prominent role in our nation’s cultural heritage.

Symbolic Representation Of Thanksgiving

As we delve further into the legacy of the turkey in American culture, it’s impossible to ignore its symbolic representation of Thanksgiving. The holiday has a deep-rooted historical significance in America and is celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday in November. It originated from a three-day feast held by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 to celebrate their first harvest together.

Thanksgiving traditions have evolved over time but still hold significant importance today. One such tradition is the gathering of family and friends for a large meal centered around roasted turkey with all the trimmings. This meal represents gratitude and thankfulness for what we have, as well as coming together as a community.

The symbolism of the turkey at Thanksgiving extends beyond just being a centerpiece at dinner tables. Turkeys are often depicted in artwork, decorations, and advertisements during this season. They represent abundance, prosperity, and sharing among loved ones. The iconic image of turkeys also serves as a reminder of our country’s agricultural roots and connection to nature.

In conclusion, while turkeys may no longer be considered America’s national bird, they continue to play an integral role in our cultural heritage through their symbolic representation of Thanksgiving traditions. From representing gratitude to celebrating abundance, these feathered creatures remind us of the values that make us American: giving thanks for what we have and coming together as one community.

Impact On Cuisine

Now that we’ve explored how the turkey has become a symbol of Thanksgiving, let’s turn our attention to its impact on American cuisine. The turkey has been an essential ingredient in many dishes throughout American history and remains a staple during holiday meals.

With the popularity of Thanksgiving, turkeys have become one of America’s most consumed meats. In fact, it is estimated that over 40 million turkeys are consumed each year during this holiday alone. Turkeys can be prepared in various ways – roasted, smoked, fried, or even grilled – and served with traditional sides such as stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes.

The versatility of the turkey extends beyond just being part of the Thanksgiving feast. It can also be used in sandwiches, soups, and salads. Ground turkey is commonly used as a substitute for beef in burgers and meatballs due to its lower fat content.

But what makes the turkey stand out from other meats is its nutritional value. Turkey is high in protein while containing fewer calories than red meat and providing essential vitamins like B6 and B12. Moreover, consuming turkey may help reduce cholesterol levels making it a healthier alternative.

In summary, the impact of turkeys on American cuisine cannot be overstated. They remain a crucial component of Thanksgiving celebrations across households nationwide while serving as a nutritious option for daily meals all year round.

What Might Have Been: Imagining A Turkey-Centered National Identity

When it comes to national identity, symbols matter. And in this regard, the turkey could have been a contender for America’s national bird. In fact, Benjamin Franklin himself once lobbied for the turkey to be chosen as the emblem of the newly-formed United States.

But what would that mean for our culture and cuisine? Would Thanksgiving still be centered around the same roasted bird we know today? Perhaps not – instead, we might look towards turkey iconography as a way to celebrate our national heritage. From currency to official seals, turkeys may have become ubiquitous in American imagery.

And speaking of food, there’s no doubt that turkey cuisine would have evolved differently if it held such an esteemed place in our cultural consciousness. We may see more regional variations on preparing and serving turkey dishes throughout the country, with each region boasting its own unique spin on this iconic bird.

Ultimately, while it’s impossible to say exactly how different our society would be had the turkey been chosen over the bald eagle as our national symbol, one thing is certain: these birds are already deeply ingrained into American culture and history. Whether you’re biting into a leftover sandwich or admiring a piece of patriotic artwork featuring a majestic tom turkey, their presence continues to shape who we are as a nation.


In conclusion, the debate over national symbols in early America was a hotly contested topic. The contest between the bald eagle and the turkey for national bird status was one of the most significant debates of this era. While Ben Franklin famously supported the turkey as a symbol of American values, ultimately politics won out and the bald eagle became our national emblem.

However, it is hard not to wonder what might have been if we had chosen the turkey instead. With their cultural significance in American history and their representation of important values such as resilience, determination, and resourcefulness, turkeys could have played an essential role in shaping our collective identity as Americans. Alas, despite their close call with becoming our national bird, they remain a beloved but often overlooked part of our culture – relegated to Thanksgiving dinner tables rather than center stage in our national symbolism. It’s truly a shame that these noble birds were robbed of their rightful place as national icons; perhaps someday they will be given another chance to soar like eagles (pun intended) into the hearts and minds of all Americans.

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