The choice of the majestic bald eagle over the wild turkey as our nation's symbol may have been justified, but it's plumb inexplicable for the turkey not to be the state bird of Texas, a place often billed as a whole 'nother country.
Without demeaning the mockingbird, the Rio Grande turkey, the predominant species of wild turkeys in the state, is a true native Texan. And like the proverbial tall Texan, it literally stands heads and shoulders above other native birds.
This is particularly true for mature Rio Grande gobblers which can weigh more than 20 pounds and stand three-feet-tall. And like lots of Texans, they also happen to have long beards and wear spurs all the time.
With their iridescent black and bronze breasts and great fan tails, the gobblers provide one of the most magnificent sights in nature when they fluff up their feathered finery to strut their stuff during the spring mating seasons.
Although the word turkey has come to be synonymous with bumbling fool, the term surely originated from domesticated barnyard birds; wild Rio Grande turkeys are anything but bumbling.
Along with excellent hearing, they are extremely farsighted and can spot the slightest movement at great distances. When the need arises, they can run four-minute miles on their long legs or stretch their four-foot wingspans to fly at speeds up to 45 miles per hour.
These formidable attributes of wild turkeys have been honed through evolution over thousands of years into a constant state of paranoid alertness, all the better to avoid becoming a meal for Texas' many four-legged predators and two legged hunters.
The Rio Grande turkey also represents a real conservation success story. Due to a variety of factors including over-harvesting, droughts and habitat loss, populations had seriously declined, leading the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to initiate a restocking and transplanting program in the 1970s. The program allowed the population to not only recover, but also expand far beyond the species' heartland in the Edwards Plateau and into nearly every corner of the state.
Nowadays, Rio Grande turkeys are among the favored wildlife species for wildlife watchers and photographers and esteemed by hunters for the thrilling challenge of calling up a mature gobbler during the spring strutting and gobbling season.
They are also welcome residents on many of The Nature Conservancy's preserves in Texas, where they benefit from a variety of conservation efforts to preserve and restore their habitats.
As Texans say grace over those tender and succulent store-bought turkeys this Thanksgiving, they can be thankful for the Rio Grande gobblers and hens in the wild.
To learn more about The Nature Conservancy's work in Texas, including other species we help protect, visit nature.org/texas.