This article was originally posted in the November of 2010 issue of Heartland newsletter Nature Notes.

Did you know that the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621? A lot of people think that turkey was served at that meal, but no one knows for sure. It was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday. After that the turkey became a very common item on the Thanksgiving menu. Some people also think that Benjamin Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be our national bird instead of the Bald Eagle. The Wild Turkey was not one of the options when our Founding Fathers chose our national symbol. After the Bald Eagle was selected as our symbol, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter suggesting that the Wild Turkey would have been a better option.

The turkeys that we eat today for Thanksgiving were domesticated in Europe back in the 1500s. The Pilgrims brought some with them when they came here in 1620. The pilgrims may have brought domestic turkeys with them, but we already had a lot of Wild Turkeys in the United States. The Wild Turkey has excellent hearing and daytime vision. That makes them pretty sneaky and hard to hunt. If you’re ever in the woods and you hear that distinctive gobble, then there’s a big male Wild Turkey somewhere in the neighborhood. Happy Thanksgiving!