If the Turkey Were Our National Bird

by Derrick G. Jeter

As we gather around the festal bird this year for Thanksgiving, it occurred to me that Benjamin Franklin was unhappy with the selection of the bald eagle as the national bird for the United States of America, instead of the turkey. In a letter written to his daughter, Franklin said,
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 perch’d 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 and Robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank Coward; The little Kingbird, 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 Kingbirds from our Country. . . .
I am, on this account, not displeas’d that the Figure [on the Great Seal of the United States of America] is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turk’y. For the Truth, the Turk’y is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. . . . He is, though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards, who should presume to invade his FarmYard with a red Coat on. [1]
But what if the turkey had been selected as our national bird? That’s what I wondered about in this little poem. So enjoy the bird and the poem and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
✯ ✯ ✯
Would it be absurd
if the turkey were our national bird?
For thus ol’ Ben it occurred,
to make the turkey our national bird.


But would patriotism be stirred
if the turkey were our national bird?
Or would snickers and sighs be heard
at the sight of the turkey—our national bird.


And what of Thanksgiving? I’d be perturbed
if the turkey were our national bird.
To feast on eagle leg, not preferred—
yet so, if the turkey were our national bird.


Thank God the founders concurred
to make the eagle, not the turkey, our national bird.
So let us cease the absurd
about the turkey being our national bird.
[1] Benjamin Franklin to Sarah Bache, January 26, 1784, in Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1987), 1088.