Sunday, March 30, 2008

Poultry in Motion

Low: 19° F
High: 41° F
Conditions: Sunny with winds 10-20 mph. 2 inches of new snow cover.

Ari has a new fascination. It’s not fox scat or red squirrels or even that very fetching Akita named Lakota who lives down the road. It’s this:
A new marker for the Appalachian trail? A brand left by some enterprising pirate? Nope once again.

It’s a footprint. And not just any footprint, but one left by a wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). They're everywhere this time of year, and just yesterday we spied about ten of the actual birds in our back yard.
Yesterday was also the day for our annual town meeting, and at least one of us is delighted by the correlation. New England town meetings are a somewhat byzantine holdover from the colonial era, when townspeople took the notion of pure democracy very, very seriously. Our town is fairly new by New England standards (yesterday was only our 181st town meeting), but our annual gathering is no less staid in terms of policy and protocol. One Saturday each spring, the townspeople gather in our local Grange Hall to first discuss and then vote on every major article and initiative for the coming year. No issue is too small or mundane: from the $15 dog licensing fee to $100,000 to repair potholes, each expenditure and policy is debated and then brought to a vote. Usually these votes are simply done by voice, but if it’s close, we begin caucusing and divide into different groups scattered around the Grange Hall. Efficient? No. Messy? Always. I love it.

So what does this have to do with wild turkeys? You may recall that one of the biggest proponents of pure democracy, Ben Franklin, advocated for this strange, prehistoric-looking creature as our nation’s mascot. He's shown here, depicited with a suspicious band of cherub assistants.
When Franklin wasn't exploiting ill-clad child labor with his kite experiments, he was doing serious thinking about national mascots and the suitability of the turkey for this role. He penned the following to his daughter by way of explanation:

"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."
Admittedly, Franklin had some pretty far-out ideas about U.S. mascots. He also suggested the rattlesnake, a rooster, a phoenix, and even the biblical figure of Moses. These, too, were overruled by other founding fathers.

As for his take on the turkey? Based on Ari's interest, I think she'd endorse his choice. But I’m not so sure I agree with them.

Wild turkeys are polygynous, which means the males take more than one mate at a time. This time of year, each male in our area is creating his own little harem. Once he is done mating, he will take no part in raising the brood, nor will he help with the female’s aggressive protection of the chicks against fox, hawks, or even Franklin's maligned eagles, all of whom become willing predators of turkey chicks (which are actually called poults). Males create fierce hierarchies within any flock, and the alpha-bird will go out of his way to make sure the other males don’t get a chance to flirt (let alone mate) with any of the females.

As for the ladies, I think they might be of questionable moral character as well. Most noticeably, they’re known to “dump” their eggs in the nest of some other unsuspecting female, presumably so that they don’t have to be troubled by maternity. If she can’t find another female turkey, a new mom will think nothing of dumping her eggs in the nest of a ruffed grouse or a ring-necked pheasant so that she can enjoy spring unencumbered. Talk about an ugly duckling story.

So, what say you, dear readers? Are Ben Franklin and Ari right? Is the wild turkey really the perfect emblem for America? We're looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


The Army of Four said...

Ben Franklin was one of those brilliant people who was also somewhat of an "odd duck", in keeping with our bird theme. Turkeys are cool, but we like the American Bald Eagle - they mate for life (we love fidelity!) and they're the only eagle unique to N. America! We read a great write-up about why the AB Eagle stands for Freedom: "It is said the eagle was used as a national emblem because, at one of the first battles of the Revolution (which occurred early in the morning) the noise of the struggle awoke the sleeping eagles on the heights and they flew from their nests and circled about over the heads of the fighting men, all the while giving vent to their raucous cries. "They are shrieking for Freedom," said the patriots. Thus the eagle, full of the boundless spirit of freedom, living above the valleys, strong and powerful in his might, has become the national emblem of a country that offers freedom in word and thought and an opportunity for a full and free expansion into the boundless space of the future." Pretty cool! We think the American Bald Eagle is the perfect choice and was totally misunderstood by Dr. Franklin!
Tail wags,
PS: I wonder... if the turkey had been chosen as our national mascot, would we still eat them at Thanksgiving?

jan said...

I live in an area that has huge turkey processing facilities. It's hard for me not to think of these over hybridized, incredibly stupid birds when I hear the word "turkey."

The wild turkey is a beautiful specimen, but then I think of cheap booze.

Jefferson's suggestion of a dove was good, but a little wimpy.

Marigold said...

Well, all I have to say is that it is quite obvious Ben never met any goats.

The Daily Echo said...

Woo! I'm thinking if the turkey was the national bird, we couldn't eat them and I happen to be very fond of turkey. Selfishly I much prefer the Eagle to remain as our symbol. They don't look nearly as yummy.

jo(e) said...

As a feminist, I think we should have gone with the spider.

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

My mom said something about making it the national beverage - after AGJ of khourse!


JB's Big World said...

I think it should stay the bald eagle who is so regal and distinguished. The turkey is too silly looking. Some birds are funny about their eggs, aren't they? Turkeys....and emus too which I wrote about last week. I think it is funny that you still have town hall meetings.

Island Rambles Blog said...

I really like wild turkeys but I am more fond of the eagles...(and I don't mean eating them either...!!)we don't have any wild turkeys here and I have never seen a real one...wonderful blog Ari (and Kathryn).

Southbay Girl said...

Hunting/tracking wild turkeys! Wow!That does sound like fun! I've never seen a wild turkey....I don't think we have them in Los Angeles. So we don't think the Turkey would make a good national symbol!

So Ari, you were told you were acting like a cattle dog in agility today? knows what that means! I hope my blog isn't rubbing off on you!!


John Theberge said...

I heard a turkey gobbling the other day when I went out to get my paper. I have yet to get a great picture of a strutting tom but eventually I will. I'm like you, winter has lost its appeal this year, I am so ready to get out in the kayak but if these cold temperatures keep up that won't be until May.

Naturegirl said...

Great blog here! I am also listed on the Nature Blog and found you glad I did! Your post is very interesting..I loved the comment of Jo(e). I also rescue my pets from shelters..have 2 felines at the present time.I shall return and follow Ari's adventures ..sunkissed in Arizona..a Canadian naturegirl

Anonymous said...

I'm a little doubtful about the US adopting the turkey as its have one in the Whiter House right now and many people will be glad to see the back of that one!

Your town seems idyllic.

Eve said...

I gotta go with the Eagle on this one!! Turkeys are cool though...seeing a flock of about 30crossing my field really gives me a sense of what it would be like to see a herd of dinosaurs on a migratory trek. And who knew they could run so fast!!!

Sandpiper said...

We have turkeys here and they sure are messy. Maybe I would go for a cleaner bird - Canada Goose? ;-)

Kapp pack said...

Mmmmm...that turkey looks yummy!

Woo woo, Kelsey Ann

Simba said...

If you follow the foot prints it might lead you to dinner.

Simba x

Gary,Charity,Scarlett,Katie&Louis said...

Echo makes a good point. If the turkey were our national bird we probably wouldn't be allowed to eat them. Our mama is a vegetarian, but our grandmother will feed us a little turkey during the holidays.

Great post!

Love and Newfie slime,
Katie and Louis

Blue said...

Being behind post reading, what do I find, but a thought provocking one from you!
I always forget Bald Eagles are America's symbol, I've seen them, a plenty in BC.Canada, & that's where I associate them with.
Upps - Sorry!
Personnally I don't think the Turkey, is a good subsitute bird, it's too silly, with its gobble!
What about a Red Cardinal?

Pats & pets

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Hmmm...all I can think of when I read this is that at our local feed store where baby turkeys are being sold right now, there are marbles in the bottom of their poult waterer so they won't drown. Their moral character may not be in question, according to Ben, however, for me, their mental prowess is.

Sharon said...

This was interesting! Thanks.

I posted a little video of a mockingbird attacking my cat if you would like to view it. the video is here:

-The Mullin Clan's Mommy- said...

Our daddy's horse, Cutter, likes to chase turkeys & see them scatter.
-Cosmos & Juneau-

Maverick the Pirate said...

Harrrr Ari
Sometimes turkeys get in our horse coral and run around becouse they can not figure out how to get back out Harrrrr.
Cap'n Maverick the Pirate

Anonymous said...

Hi Ari,

I was always partial to Jefferson's idea of a dove, myself.

I must have been a hippie in a previous life...