The Secret Life of Turkeys

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, 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.”
Benjamin Franklin in a letter to his daughter.

A turkey is a sentient being they are not here to provide you with your Christmas dinner, as I hope you will see from the following article, a turkey is a thinking, feeling creature with a life of his or her own.

This Christmas please keep turkey and other dead animals off your plate. Turkeys like all animals are sentient creatures who feel pain and suffer and like all sentient being turkeys wish to live.

Below is an article I wrote for my website think differently about sheep. I have updated it and added more information concerning turkey sentience.

First some interesting Turkey Facts:

Wild turkeys are able to fly at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour

Benjamin Franklin referred to turkeys as “a bird of courage. He suggested that the turkey rather than the eagle be the national symbol of the USA.

In the wild turkeys natural life span is up to twelve years.

Turkeys have a wingspan of four to five feet.

Related to pheasants turkeys evolved about 10 million years ago.

Below you will read compelling facts and anecdotes that demonstrate that a turkey is not an automaton driven by instinct, but like all animals he is a conscious being aware of and able to interact with his surroundings: sentient.

Rather like chickens turkeys also have become a by-word for stupidity. However also like chickens such an idea is a misconception.

Intelligence.

There is a huge amount of information supporting the fact that turkeys are intelligent, below is a selection of anecdotes and scientific research concerning the intelligence of turkeys. But as always it is important to keep in mind that sentience does not depend on a creatures intellectual capacity, intelligence adds weight to the idea that an animal is sentient, however it is not a prerequisite.

In an article by Aaron Hougham for The Daily Barometer, Tom Savage, poultry scientist and animal science professor at Oregon State University says this about turkey intelligence:

“If you throw an apple to a group of turkeys, they’ll play with it together,” he said. “Kind of like football.”

Savage asks, “If turkeys are so dumb, then why do they socialize like that?”

Turkeys: much smarter than you think

here is a video of Turkeys playing with a football

Note the comment on Youtube which follows the video “These turkey seem smarter than a lot of dogs….. and yet they are slaughtered by the millions…. with no regard”

Below is an extract form the Oregon State University News and Communication services with more information about turkey intelligence and further comments by Professor Savage :

“The researcher has spent a lot of time with turkeys and feels strongly that the use of the turkey as a metaphor for stupidity is unfair and inaccurate.

“I’ve always viewed turkeys as smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings,” said Savage. “The dumb tag simply doesn’t fit.”

Although the research has been conducted to improve meat quality the findings nonetheless demonstrate turkeys are intelligent. The incongruity of course between these findings and the improvement of meat quality is to me an amazing inconsistency of thinking, bizarre is it not to prove that a creature is intelligent, sentient and then to continue to kill such a being for his meat. Such amazing inconsistency of thinking is to my mind a baffling enigma.

To read the complete article

OSU animal scientist debunks dumb turkey myth
http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2003/nov/osu-animal-scientist-debunks-dumb-turkey-myth

It’s not only wild turkeys of course who are intelligent, despite selective breeding domesticated turkeys retain much of their natural intelligence as you can read in the account below:

“Many people assume that domestic turkeys lack the native intelligence of their wild relatives. I’d like to challenge this assumption by sharing my memory of Mila and Priscilla, two turkey hens who lived with my husband and me for several years in Darnestown, Maryland.

Victims of a truck accident, Mila and Priscilla would have been dead by the time we adopted them had they not been rescued. Though roughly the same age, their personalities were very different. Mila was a gentle and pacific turkey with a watchful face. Priscilla was a moody bird with emotional burdens.

In the spring and summer, Priscilla would disappear into the woods around our house, and I would have to go look for her. Eventually I’d spy her white form nestled in thick vegetation, where she laid many clutches of eggs that, since there was no male turkey to fertilize them, never hatched. Priscilla kept trying to be a mother, and perhaps because she could not, she was irritable much of the time.

When Priscilla got into one of her angry moods, you could see her getting ready to charge my husband or me, which wasn’t pleasant. With her head pulsing colors, she glared at us with combat in her whole demeanor. What stopped her was Mila. Perking up her head at the signals, Mila would enter directly into the path between Priscilla and us, and block Priscilla’s charge. She would tread back and forth in front of Priscilla, uttering soft pleading yelps as if beseeching her to stop. Priscilla would gradually calm down.”

Please finish reading this article which includes more information validating the intelligence of turkeys :

A Tale of Two Turkeys
By Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns
https://www.upc-online.org/turkeys/120106twoturkeys.html

Erik Marcus, the author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, has spent a considerable amount of time with turkeys on farm sanctuaries. He reports, “Turkeys remember your face and they will sit closer to you with each day you revisit. Come back day after day and, before long, a few birds will pick you out as their favourite and they will come running up to you whenever you arrive. It’s definitely a matter of the birds choosing you rather than of you choosing the birds. Different birds choose different people.”

Read more of this interesting article:
https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/turkeys/hidden-lives-turkeys/

Emotion and sensitivity

Turkeys are not only more intelligent than we give them credit for but they are also amazingly sensitive, aware, conscious even playful creatures capable of a whole spectrum of emotion, and it is only when you get to know them that their true characteristics shine through.

Here is an excellent example:

In his book The pig who sang to the moon: The emotional world of farm animals, Jeffery Massom refers to the experiences of Jo Hutto who lived amongst turkeys for one year in the forests of Florida.

‘Nearly two hundred eggs where hatched in his presence , and he became the leader of a flock of extraordinary birds… Hutto discovered that that are extremely intelligent , not at all the creatures of human myth…He tells us ” I have never kept better company or known more fulfilling companionship.” Hutto is driven in spite his scientist self, to recognise,” that in the most fundamental sense our similarities are greater than our differences.” He considers himself privileged to be in thier presence, feeling less desolate, less isolated, as he is bathed in the warm glow of these extraordinary creatures .. “As we leave the confines of my language and culture these graceful creatures become in everyway my superiors. More alert sensitive and aware they are vastly more conscious than I. They are in may ways simply more intelligent. There is an intricate attitude, a clear distillation of purpose and design that is beyond my ability to comprehend” He describes his friendship with one particular turkey. “Each time I joined him he greeted me with his happy dance, a brief joyful display of ducking and dodging, with wings outstretched and a frisky shake of the head like a dog with water in his ears. Occasionally he would jump at me and touch me lightly with his feet. His anticipation and enthusiasm made it difficult for me to refuse him.

Here is another lovely turkey story:

“After hearing accounts of how “stupid” turkeys can be, a lady and her husband were surprised to see two wild turkeys walk out onto a busy two lane country road and spread out their wings. One turkey faced oncoming traffic in one direction, the other faced oncoming traffic in the other direction. Confused drivers came to a halt. Everyone waited to see what would happen.”

To finish reading this story please click the link below.

A True Turkey Story – From All Creatures Animal Stories,

Turkeys are capable of emotion and there is physical evidence to validate this: when a turkey becomes distressed or excited the bare skin on his throat and head changes colour from grey to shades of red white and blue.

Few people know the turkey as a wild bird, sadly only associated with a Christmas, and in the USA Thanksgiving, feast. The reality is that turkeys are complex creatures, here are some facts about a creature few people ever consider is a wild bird just like a swan or an eagle to name but two examples.

Domesticated turkeys have white feathers as a result of selective breeding, but wild turkeys have dark feathers, a good camouflage which helps them blend with their environment and helps to conceal them from predators. Factory farmed turkeys have been genetically engineered to have short legs upon which they are barely able to walk let alone run, to have enlarged breasts and to grow abnormally and grossly large at fast rates; they weigh about twice as much as their natural counterparts as a result of selective breeding and abuse such as being given growth hormones and antibiotics.

The natural habitat of turkeys are hardwood forests with grassy areas, although they are able to adapt to other environments. In the wild the life of a turkey is far different than people may imagine, that is if they think about it at all. In their natural environment they have a life span of up to twelve years. Many people do not believe turkeys to be capable of flight therefore it may surprise you that they have a wing span of four to five feet with which they can fly short distances at speeds of over 55 miles an hour!They usually fly close to the ground. In the wild they have strong feet and legs for walking running or scratching to forage: turkeys can run at 25 miles per hour given the opportunity to do so. With thier strong beaks their days are spent foraging for food, they are omnivorous and eat a varied diet of seeds, berries, insects and acorns, depending on what is available throughout the year. The preferred time for eating is usually the early morning and late afternoon. At night they roost in trees on the lower branches, at first light they will fly to the ground but before the sun rises turkeys will begin to make loud sounds which continue all morning, the male makes a gobbling sound and the female a clicking sound. These vocalisations are just two example of many other sounds with which turkeys communicate, more about this later

Wild turkeys are a far cry from their unfortunate counterparts: domesticated factory farmed turkeys through selective breeding and mistreatment have very different bodies and capabilities.

Animals Rights: Turkeys

Like chickens turkeys relish the pleasure of dust bathing to clean their feathers. Dust bathing involves the turkey fluffing up his feathers and allowing loose soil in which they wallow to penetrate to their skin.

Turkeys live in flocks, they are highly social animals. Turkeys if treated well are very friendly creatures enjoying the company of other animals including humans. Like all animals turkeys enjoy pleasant tactile sensations and enjoy having their feathers stroked. Touch is important to all sentient beings. Turkeys have a zest for life, a joy that demonstrates a truly sentient creature.

During mating the male turkey called, a tom or gobbler, who is considerably larger than the female, perform quite a display to attract females, called a hen, by puffing out their bodies and displaying their feathers accompanied by making the familiar gobble gobble noise. A turkey is not monogamous and may mate with as many as four or five hens each season.

After mating the female turkey will set to building a nest under a bush to protect and care for her young, here she will roost at night until the youngsters can fly at about two weeks old. Baby turkeys, called  poults or chicks, will remain with their mother for five months. She will lay as many as 18 eggs, laying one egg each day, after about 28 days the eggs hatch. After hatching baby turkeys follow their mother everywhere, they are dependent on her for food and protection, she will fiercely protect them from predators as formidable as raccoons, foxes and hawks to name just a few of the many threats that lay in wait for her vulnerable chicks. If the poults become accidently separated from their mother they will emit loud peeping noises to which the mother responds by running up to her youngsters with loud yelling sounds.

Turkeys communicate

Turkeys emanate a variety of sounds which are not random meaningless noises.

Turkeys vocalise important information, important to turkeys that is, their vocalisations convey a variety of nuances, possibly far more varied that we can perceive, messages communicating thier needs and thier emotional states. Such nuances may well be compared to Chinese languages where the inflection conveys different meaning, with this consideration in mind the vocalisations of many creatures many be more complex than we think. This idea is postulated in William J Long’s book: How Animals Talk, he refers to the haw sound emanated by crows, which appears to take on different meanings in different circumstances, but which sounds the same to us, but is nevertheless understood by crows and indeed other creatures. Referring here to the crow who stands as sentinel keeping watch over the flock to alert them to danger he says :

“Apparently this simple haw of the crow is like a root word of certain ancient languages, the Chinese for example, which has several different intonations to express different ideas, but which all sound alike to foreign ears, and which are spelled alike when they appear in foreign print. To judge by the crow’s action, it is certain that the elementary haw has at least three distinct accents to express as many different meanings: one of “all’s well,” another of “watch out,” and a third of “be off!” Moreover, the birds seem to understand these different meanings as clearly as we understand plain English; they feed quietly while haw means one thing, or spring aloft when it means another; and though you watch them a lifetime you will see nothing to indicate that there is any doubt or confusion in their minds as to the sentinel’s message.

The numerous vocalizations  of Turkeys consist of have many sounds: “gobbles,” “clucks,” “putts,” “purrs,” “yelps,” “cutts,” “whines,” “cackles,” and “kee-kees.”

I tried without success to find audio of these sounds plus a detailed explanation. Yes there are many on youtube, also websites but all published by the sad individuals in our society who get some perverted pleasure from hunting turkeys. I included in the original article one such video which is now no longer on-line, however  I often feel uncomfortable about directing visitors to my blog and website to sites which contain information totally opposed to the purpose of both my website and blog.  There is a very short audio of Turkey the sounds a turkey makes:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website

All About Birds: Wild Turkey

As mentioned earlier, turkey calls are important for communication between a mother and her offspring. Vocalisation is an important part of the bonding process. The bonding of  mother turkeys and their youngsters through vocal and visual signals is important for the normal social development of the poults, as these communications facilitate the learning of social activities. The gobble that the male turkey uses in early spring is a vocalisation used to announce his presence to females and competing males and can be heard a mile away. In response a hen will yelp thus informing the male of her location. Males also emit a low pitched drumming sound.

All About Birds: Wild Turkey

Turkeys also communicate by the use of visual signs, such as the mating display by the tom mentioned earlier where he displays his tail feathers, puffs out his body and struts about shaking his feathers. Toms, also called gobblers because of the noise they make which can be heard for up to a mile away, convey their aggression by the fanning of their tail feathers.

Males also emit a low-pitched drumming sound and often yelp in the manner of females. Hens likewise can gobble, though they rarely do this. Jakes, immature males, often yelp.

Pain

Sentience is the the capacity of feeling and is the basis for experience of stress and pain, in other words an animal cannot experience pain without being sentient.

Pain of course is an obvious indication that a creature is sentient and all animals feel pain and turkeys are no exception. To my way of thinking the fact that animals feel pain is so evident that it seems superfluous to have to write about something that is so obvious as the fact that night follows day. It has always amazed me that people consider that certain animals do not feel pain. We can never be certain that any creature does not feel pain even those without a conventional nervous system, but without a doubt all creatures with a nervous system from the highly sophisticated and complex to the more primitive all experience the feeling of pain. Pain after all is a survival mechanism without which we would soon sustain harm to our bodies and die prematurely.

Do turkeys feel pain? Yes they most certainly do . For more information about how Turkeys experience pain :
Animal Rights Poultry

People here in the west may see turkeys as automated walking lumps of meat but in the past it seems in other cultures turkeys were more respected. In mythology turkeys are venerated creatures.

“Turkeys have amassed a popularity and significance of mythological proportions among the many and diverse original cultures of North and Central America.

Among Native North Americans, the turkey has a long history of association with spirituality and the honouring of the Earth Mother. It’s a symbol of all the blessings that the Earth contains, along with the ability to use them to their greatest advantage.

Turkeys have an intricate mythology among the early inhabitants of the United States and Canada. Among other things, they helped create the world and showed humans how to raise corn and fight off evil spirits. The gobbler is shown outsmarting the owl (a common representation of death and the underworld) and challenging the powerful eagle in combat.”

Talking Turkey: Myth and Truth About the All-American Bird

You can read more about Turkey Methodology here:

Native American Turkey Mythology
http://www.native-languages.org/legends-turkey.htm

Finally it appears that turkeys have pecking order to which humans may be included.. .in a subservient capacity.

“Wild-turkey flocks have a pecking order. If they live around humans, some of the dominant toms may begin to include people in that order — at a level below themselves, says Jim Cardoza, a turkey expert at the Massachusetts wildlife agency. Wild turkeys “get used to people and incorporate them into their view of society,” he says. Some behaviour, such as putting out bird food and slinking quietly away, can encourage these lordly males to think that humans are a subservient life form, believes Mr. Cardoza.

Biologist James Earl Kennamer, senior vice president of the National Wild Turkey Federation, an Edgefield, S.C., hunters’ group, has studied wild turkeys for 40 years. “When they think you’re one of them, they’ll fight you to show who’s dominant,” he says. “If you turn your back, they’ll take it to mean they’re dominant.”
Animals in Translation: November 2005

I think the behaviours you have read about would not be possible if turkeys where the automatons people believe them to be. The poultry industry does not want you to understand the true nature of turkeys, as you may consider that it is time to stop rearing turkeys in miserable abusive conditions simply to eat thier flesh to commemorate events that for many people should be celebrations rather than blood baths for millions of sentient beings.

References and Links :

Wild Turkey – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Animal Facts – Turkeys

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Turkeys

  1. Excellent work as always. Thank you for this. I’m so glad I won’t be sat at the Christmas dinner table looking at one of these amazing creature’s dead body. It would be so good if people could stop thinking of this as ‘meat’, and see it for what it really is – the murdered corpse of a thinking, feeling person-ality who wanted to live. Happy vegan Christmas to you and your loved ones 🦃🎄🎁🎈

    • Yes so agree, I wish people would realise what eating meat means for the animal, the taking away of a life of a sentient being. I admit it took me a while but eventually I made the connection. And thankfully more people are doing so. A happy Christams also to you and yours.

    • Thank you for sharing on FB. Yes I am sure adopting turkeys would be a great experience, if only more people realised how intelligent turkeys are, with unique intelligence all of their own, sentient beings with lives of their own. Have a great Christmas.

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