Turkeys – Who Are They, and Why Should We Care?

Turkeys – Who Are They, and Why Should We Care?

By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

This article was originally published on Independent Media Institute’s
EcoWatch, November 19, 2018

We adopted Amelia as a young turkey into our sanctuary from a local farmer.
lived with us for five years until her legs gave out and we had to call our
veterinarian to put her to rest surrounded by her friends in the yard. Until
then she hung out happily with the chickens and ducks, and when people
she’d fan out her white tail feathers and stroll amiably beside them.

Amelia chose a leafy spot to lay her eggs in, and there she would sit
quietly in
the spring and early summer. Evenings, she loved being outside with the
poking around until the last glimmer of sinking sunlight. At last, she and
would amble into their house and join the chickens who were perched for the

I believe Amelia would have made a wonderful mother, but our sanctuary
does not allow bringing new birds into the world from which ours is a
That said, it helps to know that turkeys are excellent mothers and that in
nature, the young birds, known as poults, stay close to her for nearly half
year. In nature, when the maternal family is on the move and one of her
peeps his or her distress, the mother bird clucks reassuringly, and if the
peeping persists, she rushes to comfort her little one.

When her poults grow tired and cold, they tell her so, and she crouches to
and comfort them under her great, enveloping wings. If, when traveling as a
through the woods and fields, a youngster happens to stray, intent on his
pursuit, on discovering that he is alone, the poult straightens up, looks
about, listens intently, and calls anxiously to his mother. Biologists call
a “lost call” – the call of the frightened young turkey upon perceiving
that he
is alone. When the mother bird answers her errant youngster’s searching
cry, he
calls back to her in relief, opens up his wings, flaps them joyfully, and
to rejoin his family.

In nature, baby turkeys start talking to their mother while they are still
inside their eggs nestled with their brothers and sisters in the deep
warmth of
her feathers. They know her and her voice and each other long before they
Whenever I think of turkeys in the mechanical incubators and the
“servicing” rooms, and all the horrors that follow, I imagine the lost
calls of
all the turkeys that will never be answered. For them, there will never be a
joyous flapping of wings or a family reunited and on the move in the wooded
places they so love to explore.

Sanctuary workers like myself who’ve come to know turkeys bred for the meat
industry know that these birds have not lost their ancestral desire to
mate, walk, run, and be sociable – and even to swim. We know that their
inability to mate properly does not result from a loss of desire to do so,
from human-caused disabilities, including the fact that their claws and
much of
their beaks were cut off or burned off at the hatchery, making it hard for
to hold on to anything. Like Amelia, they’re susceptible to painful
leg disorders that limit their spontaneous activity and cause them to age
before their natural 15-year lifespan.

Turkeys are emotional birds whose moods can be seen in their demeanor and
in the
pulsing colors of their faces, which turn blue, purple or red depending on
they are feeling. An emotional behavior in turkeys is the “great wake” a
will hold over a fallen companion in the natural world and on factory farms.
When, as frequently happens on factory farms, a bird has a convulsive heart
attack, several others will surround their dead companion and suddenly die
themselves, suggesting a sensibility toward one another that should awaken
us to
how terribly we treat them, and make us stop.

Observers have marveled at the great speed of sound transplantation from one
bird to another within a flock at a moment’s danger, and the pronounced
of simultaneous gobbling of adult male turkeys in proximity to one another.
bird having begun, the others follow him so quickly that the human ear
figure which bird launched the chorus or caused it to cease.

Turkeys love to play and have fun. In *Illumination in the Flatwoods: A
*with the Wild Turkey*, naturalist Joe Hutto describes how on August
mornings his
three-month-old turkeys, on seeing him, would drop down from their roosting
limbs where they had sat ‘softly chattering” in the dawn, “stretch their
and do their strange little dance, a joyful happy dance, expressing an

A witness who chanced upon an evening dance of adult turkeys wrote of
them calling. No, he said, they were not calling strayed members of their
They were just having “a twilight frolic before going to roost. They kept
dashing at one another in mock anger, stridently calling all the while. . .
Their notes were bold and clear.”

For about five minutes, according to this witness, the turkeys “played on
brown pine-straw floor of the forest, then as if at a signal, they assumed a
sudden stealth and stole off in the glimmering shadows.”

We once had two female turkeys in our sanctuary, Mila and Priscilla. Though
same age of a few months old, they were very different from each other.
Mila was
gentle and pacific, whereas Priscilla was moody with emotional burdens
anger. When Priscilla got into her angry mood, her head pulsed purple
colors and
her yelps sounded a warning as she glared at my husband and me with combat
her demeanor, ready to charge and perhaps bite us.

What stopped her was Mila, Perking up her head at the signals, Mila would
directly into the path between Priscilla and us, and block her. She would
back and forth in front of Priscilla, uttering soft pleading yelps as if
beseeching her not to charge. Sure enough, Priscilla would gradually calm
in response to the peacemaker’s inhibiting signals.

Turkeys come into the nation’s consciousness as caricatures and corpses at
Thanksgiving, and then they’re forgotten until the next year rolls around.
turkeys are being slaughtered every single day of the year, much more often
for Thanksgiving alone, for which 45 million birds die. For thousands of
– 242.5 thousand were slaughtered in 2017 in the United States, according
to the
National Turkey Federation – every single day is “Thanksgiving,” a
harvest of horror.

Instead of calling Thanksgiving “Turkey Day,” let’s make it a turkey-free
and show our thanks by making peace with our feathered friends.


Source of Annual U.S. Turkey Slaughter Statistics: National Turkey
Federation <http://www.eatturkey.com/why-turkey/stats>.

*Karen Davis, Ph.D <https://www.upc-online.org/karenbio.htm>. is the
president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, a*
*nonprofit organization and sanctuary for chickens in Virginia that
promotes the*
*compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. Karen is the
author of*
*More Than A Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality
https://www.upc-online.org/turkeys/more_than_a_meal.pdf>, Prisoned
*Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry
and The
*Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities
She has been*
*inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding*
*Contributions to Animal Liberation.*

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.
Don’t just switch from beef to chicken. Go Vegan.
http://www.UPC-online.org/ http://www.twitter.com/upcnews

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2 thoughts on “Turkeys – Who Are They, and Why Should We Care?

  1. The little chicks are adorable! I remember taking a walk one Sunday morning, and there was a wild turkey mom with her little clutch of darlings, peeping away behind her.

    Well, wouldn’t you know that a guy barrel-assing down the road, those tyrannical human despots, and the poor things had to book it out of the way in time.

    How they know all of this and manage to survive just amazes me.

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