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Turkey: Icon of American Thanksgiving

Although there is no evidence that turkey was on the menu for the earliest Thanksgiving dinners, most Americans today couldn’t imagine a Thanksgiving Day dinner without one.

According to the National Turkey Federation, an advocate for turkey growers in the United States, nearly 88 percent of Americans ate turkey at their Thanksgiving Day dinner in 2011 — approximately 334 million kilograms worth.

Once plentiful and a true native of North America, the wild turkey, statesman Benjamin Franklin argued, should have been the official bird of the United States — not the bald eagle. As for pure display of regal plumage, the wild male “Tom” turkey (as shown here) can hold its own against any bird.

Presenting live turkeys to the president of the United States for Thanksgiving has been an annual ritual since 1947. Those birds, with great public fanfare, are "pardoned" by the president and generally sent off to Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s estate, to happily live out their days.

Less well publicized are the dressed turkeys that federation growers present to the president. Those are donated to organizations that help feed the needy.