To help you get ready for Thanksgiving next week, here are five facts about the star attraction at the traditional holiday feast.
1. Turkeys are capable of fascinating physical feats. According to the Audubon Society, wild turkeys can fly as fast as 60 miles per hour. Turkeys also have excellent vision — seeing three times more clearly than 20/20 — and they can see in color and have a 270-degree field of vision.
2. Benjamin Franklin was a fan. The first Postmaster General admired the turkey, although it isn’t true that he advocated naming it the national bird. According to the Franklin Institute, he didn’t like the bald eagle, stating in a letter to his daughter that it was a “Bird of bad moral Character” whereas the turkey was a “much more respectable Bird … a Bird of Courage.”
3. George H.W. Bush was the first president to officially pardon a turkey. This occurred during 1989, Bush’s first year in office, although tales of spared turkeys go back to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, whose son took a liking to a turkey destined for Christmas dinner. Later, Harry Truman became the first president to appear in a photo op with a turkey that would later be served, while sometime around the Nixon administration, the president began sending the turkey to a petting farm after holding the traditional receiving ceremony.
4. Turkeys almost went extinct. The wild turkey was hunted nearly to extinction by the early 1900s, when the population reached a low of around 30,000 birds, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Restoration programs across North America have brought the numbers up to 7 million today.
5. Turkeys have been featured on several stamps over the years. These include a 3-cent 1956 Wildlife Conservation stamp that featured a wild turkey; a 50-cent 1994 release that featured “Freedom From Want,” Norman Rockwell’s famous painting depicting a family’s turkey dinner; and a 44-cent 2009 stamp that showed a turkey float in a New York City Thanksgiving Day parade.