Turkey v Bald Eagle as our National Bird and Symbol

July 4th, 2015
Cabin fever has set in as I enter my third week of non-weight-bearing on my right foot.  My handy little knee-caddy enables me to get around well in the house, but steps outside plus hot weather, create no real incentive to scoot around outside.  Crutches were hard on my wrists when used correctly; hard on my shoulders when used incorrectly! 

It amazes me how much bird-associated "stuff" I do during the day, including reading and culling and sorting photographs.  The photos remind me of some special sightings that I skim over when I'm birding so frequently.  This pause is proving valuable for me so I thought I'd share my series of photos about our National Bird that wasn't!

Ben Franklin, as you may know, favored the Turkey, an American native, as our national symbol but he was in the minority and as far as I know, never spoke out in opposition to the selection of the Bald Eagle.  He did, however, express his opinion about the two birds in a letter to his daughter.
He thought the Bald Eagle was 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 [osprey]; 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.”   . . .He is a rank Coward: The little King Bird . . . attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.”

He thought the native American Turkey was a much more respectable choice:  
“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.”

The gobble of the native turkey is very distinctive and, to me, sounds more assertive than the call of the Bald Eagle (usually substituted in movies by the call of a Red-tailed Hawk).

Just this past May, I had the good fortune of coming upon a Gould's Turkey displaying for a partner.  With no other turkey in sight, was I the "intended" viewer?

While the Wild Turkey can still be found in every state, it is comprised of various subspecies.  Gould’s Turkey inhabits the southeastern portion of Arizona in higher altitude areas known as “Sky Islands” . . . forested mountains that rise up from the wide desert.  The Gould’s is the largest of the turkey subspecies with longer legs, larger feet and larger tail feathers and wings than all the other subspecies.  It also has pure white tips on the rump and tail feathers as seen below.

A Tom Turkey in Madera Canyon strutted its stuff for me while I photographed, from beginning to end, its “display” used to attract females.

Male turkeys have a long, dark, fan-shaped tail and glossy bronze wings. As with many other species of the Galliformes, turkeys exhibit strong sexual dimorphism. The male is substantially larger than the female, and his feathers have areas of red, purple, green, copper, bronze, and gold iridescence. 

A piece of trivia for you:  turkeys have 5000 to 6000 feathers.  It's head is featherless and its wattle (a fleshy appendage) hangs below its throat.  Males typically have a "beard", a tuft of coarse hair (modified feathers) growing from the center of the breast. 

Date:  May 18, 2015.  Sky Island of Santa Rita Mountains.


Thank you, Tom!  You made my day that day - and have re-made it today!

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P.S.  As I continue to process photos taken earlier this year, I found one of a Wild Tom Turkey showing the feathers growing from the center of the breast, taken at Santa Rita Lodge on March 8, 2015, 

Tom Turkey showing tuft of coarse feathers growing from mid-breast.  Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Cyn. 3/8/15

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