A probably apocryphal tale says that, when the time was coming to choose a national bird for the U.S.A., the turkey was considered a front-runner, but was beaten out by the (carrion-eating) American Eagle.

Wow, it's less apocryphal than i'd thought. Benjamin Franklin wrote

I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our Country; he is a Bird of bad moral character; like those among Men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable Bird and withal a true, original Native of America.

The eagle has been a national symbol of the United States of America since 1782. It's first appearance as an American symbol was on a copper cent minted in Massachusetts in 1776.

(With thanks to the Veterans Administration website.)

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