In 1776, Ben Franklin proposed making the turkey the national bird.

But, we ask, would anyone want a bird for a national symbol that:

Nearly drowns when it rains, gaping at the sky open-mouthed?

Often winds up suffocating by huddling too close to other turkeys?

Inspired the phrase, "You turkey?"

When Franklin proposed the bird as a national symbol, he was touting the wild turkey, says Carl Brown of the National Wild Turkey Federation in South Carolina, not the domesticated, "barnyard" variety whose main claim to fame is that it winds up each Thanksgiving in somebody's oven (the clearest evidence that it is none too swift).

Unlike the domesticated turkey, the wild breed is fleet-footed, cunning and keen-eyed, according to Brown. Franklin wanted it to be the national bird for that reason and because the gobbler's feathers turn red, white and blue during the spring mating season.

"How patriotic can you get?" asks an obviously prejudiced Brown, who dismisses the domesticated turkey as "just plain stupid."

There are an estimated two million wild turkeys in the U.S. eluding two million wild turkey hunters. Relatively few of the black-feathered birds are caught. Several thousand of the wild ones are hiding out in Maryland, but only 174 -- and that's nearly a record -- were killed this year, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

That's a much better survival rate than that experienced by the 100,000 white-feathered turkeys raised on Maryland farms this year. All of those birds are expected eventually to end up in someone's oven or pot.

It is not known whether the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock actually ate turkey on the first Thanksgiving. But Brown says turkeys were in plentiful supply back then (though surely not at 89 cents a pound), and it is safe to assume that they were eaten.

When they could be caught.