|Wild Turkeys by John James Audubon was one of his most famous paintings.|
While only one turkey species is known to North America, there are five distinct subspecies found in the United States. The most common by far is the eastern wild turkey, which ranges from Florida to Maine and as far west as the Dakotas. (Small stocked populations also exist outside the bird's native range, in California, Oregon, and Washington.) This is the "remarkable" and "magnificent" bird that so impressed John James Audubon, and that appears in our collective vision of the Pilgrims' plenty.
Despite popular opinion, Benjamin Franklin never proposed the wild turkey as a national symbol. He wrote about the turkey in a letter to his daughter, and groused about the bald eagle--a bird "of bad moral Character"--after it appeared on the seal adopted by a fraternal group of Revolutionary War officers. The wild turkey, he wrote, is "a much more respectable Bird . . . 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."
Read how wild turkeys in the Southeast may be declining in Audubon Magazine.