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Wild Turkey Fact Sheet

Class: Aves

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

Subfamily: Meleagridinae

Genus: Meleagris

Species: Meleagris gallopavo

Subspecies: There are five subspecies of North American wild turkey: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, and Gould’s.

Size and weight: The wild turkey is the heaviest member of the Galliformes order. The male typically weighs between 11 to 24 pounds and is 39-49 inches long. The female, significantly smaller than the male, weighs 5 to 12 pounds and is only 30 to 37 inches long. Despite their size, wild turkeys can run at speeds up to 25 mph and fly up to 55 mph.

Physical Features and Plumage: The male has featherless, red head and throat and a body covered in red, bronze, and gold iridescent feathers. When trying to attract a mate, the male will display, fluffing out the feathers on his body, fanning out his tail feathers and dragging his wings as he struts. The male typically has a “beard,” a patch of course feathers growing from the center of its breast. The female’s plumage is duller, consisting mostly of browns. Each wild turkey has approximately 5000 to 6000 feathers. Other distinctive physical features:

Spurs: Bony spikes on the back of each of the turkey’s lower leg. The male will use his spurs to spar with other males.

Wattle: A flap of skin under the turkey’s chin.

Caruncles: Fleshy bumps that grow on the turkey’s head and throat.

Snood: A fleshy flap that hangs from the beak.

While both the male and female have spurs, wattles, caruncles, and snoods, they are far smaller and less distinctive on the female.

Turkey Features

Diet: The wild turkey is an omnivore. It feeds on acorns, nuts, seeds, berries as well as small amphibians and reptiles.

Geography: The wild turkey is native to North America, and is primarily found in eastern and central areas of the United States.

Habitat: Open woodland, savanna; also, grasslands and swamps.

Breeding and Social Structure: The male is polygamous, mating with several female hens during each mating season. To attract a female, the male displays—puffing out his feathers, spreading his tail, and dragging his wings. This behavior is commonly referred to as strutting. After breeding, the female typically lays approximately 12 eggs over a two-week period, though larger clutches of eggs have been observed. Nests are shallow dirt depressions surrounded by vegetation. The female will incubate her eggs for about 28 days.

Risks: The wild turkey is currently listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. At the beginning of the 20th century wild turkey populations were decreasing due to hunting and habitat loss. But beginning in the 1940s, efforts to save the species have helped populations rebound considerably. In the early 1900s populations were estimated at 30,000. Current numbers of wild turkeys are estimated at 7 million.

Additional Facts:

  • European explorers took wild turkeys to Europe from Mexico in the early 1500s. They were domesticated there and were later brought back to North America by English colonists. These domesticated turkeys have white-tipped tails while wild turkeys have dark-tipped tails.
  • When Europeans first encountered the wild turkey, it was incorrectly classified as a type of guinea fowl, also known as turkey fowl.
  • The turkey is one of only two domesticated birds originating in the New World. The other is the Muscovy duck.
  • The wild turkey is an agile flier, unlike its domesticated counterpart.
  • When excited, the male’s head and neck coloration changes, alternating between shades of reds, whites, and blues.
  • The wild turkey can make at least 30 different calls. In the spring, the adult male makes a call known as a gobble to attract females. Humans can hear gobbles from a mile away.
  • The male turkey is often referred to as a tom and a female is called a hen.
  • Benjamin Franklin argued that the wild turkey, and not the bald eagle, would be a far better choice for the national bird. He wrote in a letter to his daughter:

    “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

    …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, 1784

Photo © David Allen
Illustration © Joe Hutto. Used by permission of the publisher, Lyons Press.

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TRANSCRIPT

Man: DAY AFTER DAY, FOR OVER A YEAR, I SAW NO ONE, EXCEPT MY FAMILY.

IT WAS A FAMILY LIKE NONE THAT YOU KNOW.

BUT I'M A MOTHER, IT SEEMS, AND THESE ARE MY CHILDREN.

AND SOON ENOUGH, LIKE ALL CHILDREN, THEY'LL LEAVE HOME AND I SUPPOSE MY HEART WILL BE BROKEN.

BUT, FOR NOW, THIS IS MY LIFE...AS A TURKEY.

[ THEME MUSIC PLAYING ] Narrator: IN 1991, WILDLIFE ARTIST AND NATURALIST JOE HUTTO DISCOVERED A BOWL OF WILD TURKEY EGGS ON HIS DOORSTEP.

DETERMINED TO SAVE THEM, HE OBTAINED AN INCUBATOR, WATCHED THEM HATCH, AND BECAME THEIR TURKEY MOTHER.

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, JOE WAS A FULL-TIME PARENT AND RAISED 16 TURKEY CHICKS.

THE EXPERIENCE CHANGED HIS LIFE.

THE JOURNAL JOE KEPT OF HIS LIFE AS A TURKEY ULTIMATELY BECAME A BOOK.

THIS FILM IS A REENACTMENT OF HIS REMARKABLE JOURNEY, TOLD IN HIS OWN WORDS.

VERY RARELY HAVE PEOPLE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO OBTAIN YOUNG WILD TURKEYS, EITHER IN THE EGG OR AS YOUNG POULTS.

I'VE BEEN TRYING TO GET MY HANDS ON WILD TURKEY EGGS OR YOUNG WILD TURKEYS FOR DECADES.

THEN THIS LOCAL FARMER WAS ON HIS WAY TO MY CABIN WITH A BOWL FULL OF EGGS.

IT WAS A DELIVERY THAT WAS TO CHANGE MY LIFE IN WAYS THAT I COULD NEVER HAVE IMAGINED.

MY CABIN IS DEEP IN THE OAK HAMMOCKS OF FLORIDA.

EVER SINCE I WAS IN COLLEGE I'D EXPERIMENTED WITH 'IMPRINTING' -- BECOMING A MOTHER TO YOUNG ANIMALS.

WITH WILD TURKEYS, I'D ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT IF I COULD GET SOME POULTS TO IMPRINT ON ME AS THEIR MOTHER, THEN I COULD OPEN A WINDOW INTO THEIR SECRET WORLD.

IMPRINTING GIVES THE OBSERVER AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE INTO THE LIVES OF CREATURES THAT YOU WOULD NEVER HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE OTHERWISE.

SOME PEOPLE MIGHT THINK THIS IS A VERY STRANGE THING TO DO.

TO ME, IT WAS A LEGITIMATE AREA OF SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY.

BUT THIS EXPERIMENT WAS GOING TO LEAVE SCIENCE FAR BEHIND.

FOR THIS TO SUCCEED, I HAD NO IDEA OF THE EXTENT TO WHICH I'D HAVE TO ACTUALLY BECOME A TURKEY.

I CAME HOME ONE AFTERNOON AND THERE WAS A STAINLESS STEEL DOG BOWL FILLED WITH EGGS ON MY DOORSTEP.

SO I RACED OUT IN THE NIGHT, FOUND AN INCUBATOR AT A FRIEND'S HOUSE, BROUGHT IT BACK.

I DIDN'T KNOW IF THE EGGS WOULD BE DESTROYED BY TOO MUCH HEAT, OR IF THEY WOULD DIE FROM NOT ENOUGH.

THEY HAD BEEN WITHOUT INCUBATION FOR AT LEAST SEVEN OR EIGHT HOURS, SO I WAS REALLY CONCERNED.

NO ONE'S DONE THIS IN THE WILD.

THIS WAS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT FROM ANYTHING ELSE.

EACH ONE OF THESE EGGS HARBORS A MYSTERY; IT'S SOMETHING UNTAMED AND VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN TO US, AN EMBODIMENT OF WILDERNESS.

AND, YES, THIS IS THE SPECIES FROM WHICH OUR DOMESTICATED BIRDS COME FROM ORIGINALLY.

BUT PEOPLE SHOULDN'T MAKE THE MISTAKE THAT THERE'S A SIMILARITY BETWEEN THESE BIRDS AND THE ONES WE HAVE TAMED FOR FOOD.

WILD TURKEYS ARE SO INCREDIBLY DIFFERENT.

EACH EGG MUST BE PROPERLY TURNED TWICE A DAY.

I'M TOLD WILD TURKEYS MAKE UTTERANCES TO THEIR CLUTCH.

SO, SECRETLY, IN BOTH WILD TURKEY AND ENGLISH, I BEGAN TO TALK TURKEY.

Hi, guys.

[ IMITATING TURKEY CALL ] ALMOST IMMEDIATELY I STARTED HEARING A RESPONSE FROM THE EGGS.

I WOULD MAKE A TURKEY-LIKE NOISE AND I WOULD HEAR DISTINCT LITTLE PEEPS AND TRILLS COMING OUT OF THESE EGGS.

[ JOE CALLING, PEEPS COMING FROM EGGS ] BUT I HAD THIS PROBLEM -- 25 DAYS AFTER INCUBATION BEGINS, THE MOTHER STOPS TURNING THE EGGS.

BUT I HAVE NO IDEA WHEN INCUBATION STARTED WITH THESE EGGS, SO I HAD TO JUST GUESS.

BUT THEN, SURE ENOUGH, CRACKS BEGAN TO APPEAR.

THIS WAS A CRUCIAL TIME.

THIS IS THE MOMENT THAT THE POULTS MUST RECOGNIZE ME AS A PARENT.

IMPRINTING ONLY OCCURS IN THESE FIRST FEW MOMENTS OUT OF THE EGG.

AND THEN, SUDDENLY, THE END OF THE EGG FELL AWAY, AND THIS LITTLE POULT FELL OUT.

AND HE'S WET AND HE'S CONFUSED AND HE'S SCRAMBLING, AND IT'S OBVIOUSLY A DESPERATE TIME.

WELL, I FINALLY REMEMBERED TO MAKE A SOUND.

[ CHIRPING ] AND I MADE MY LITTLE TURKEY SOUND THAT I HAD BEEN MAKING TO THESE EGGS.

AND THE LITTLE TURKEY STOPPED IMMEDIATELY, AND HIS LITTLE SHAKING WET HEAD ROTATED AND HE LOOKED ME SQUARE IN THE EYES.

AND THERE WAS SOMETHING VERY UNAMBIGUOUS TRANSPIRED IN THAT MOMENT.

AND HE IDENTIFIED ME AS THE... THE PAIR OF EYES BELONGING TO THE CORRECT VOICE.

AND IN HIS WAY, HE STUMBLED AND HOPPED ACROSS THE FLOOR OF THE INCUBATOR.

AND JOINED ME AT THE EDGE OF THE SHELF AND HUDDLED UP AGAINST MY FACE AND WENT TO SLEEP.

AND SOMETHING ALSO MOVED INSIDE OF ME, SOMETHING VERY PROFOUND.

AND I REALIZED THAT MY INVOLVEMENT IN THIS EXPERIMENT WAS GOING TO BE A VERY PERSONAL, VERY EMOTIONAL RIDE FOR ME, AND NOT JUST A SCIENCE EXPERIMENT.

IT HAD TAKEN A DAY AND A NIGHT, AND I WAS EXHAUSTED, BUT I WAS FINALLY MOTHER TO 16 WILD TURKEYS.

THIS ALL HAPPENED VERY SUDDENLY, AND I HADN'T REALLY ANTICIPATED IT.

I MORE OR LESS JUST DISAPPEARED INTO THE FOREST.

AFTER A VERY FEW DAYS, I REALIZED THAT THIS WAS A COMPLETE, 100%, RELENTLESS COMMITMENT THAT I HAD MADE TO THESE BIRDS, AND THAT IF I WAS GOING DO THIS, I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO BE A WILD TURKEY PARENT FOR SOME UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME.

I HAD NO IDEA IF THIS COMMITMENT WAS GOING TO LAST WEEKS OR MONTHS -- OR, AS IT TURNED OUT, YEARS.

I AM IGNORANT ABOUT BEING A TURKEY MOTHER.

WHAT DO THEY ALREADY KNOW, AND WHAT DO THEY NEED TO LEARN FROM ME?

THEY ARE BORN ENTOMOLOGISTS.

IT'S ALREADY THERE -- THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE TAUGHT WHICH INSECT IS DANGEROUS, WHICH ONE IS PALATABLE.

THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE TAUGHT WHICH SNAKE IS HARMLESS AND WHICH ONE IS VENOMOUS.

THEY KNOW EXACTLY.

[ RATTLING ] I CAN ALREADY TELL THEM APART.

ONE BIRD I'VE STARTED TO CALL 'TURKEY BOY,' HE'S INTO EVERYTHING.

HE'S INQUISITIVE AND BRAVE, AND HE'S GOING TO BE A HANDFUL.

HE'S ALREADY BEGINNING TO DISPLAY TO THE OTHER BIRDS, AND HE'S ONLY FIVE DAYS OLD.

TODAY, I ACTUALLY TRIED TO SHOW THEM HOW TO ROOST, ALTHOUGH I SUSPECT THIS IS SOMETHING THEY KNOW ALREADY.

IT'S IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THESE WILD BIRDS BEAR NO RESEMBLANCE TO THEIR DOMESTIC COUSINS.

IT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PET DOG AND A WOLF.

THESE BIRDS ARE SO WILD, IF I LEAVE THEM ALONE FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME THEY WILL JUST RUN AND RUN TILL THEY DROP DEAD.

THERE'S THIS ONE I'VE CALLED 'SWEET PEA.'

SHE'S VERY LITTLE AND LIKES TO BE HELD IN THE HAND.

I DID HAVE THAT FEELING THAT THIS RAT SNAKE HAD LITERALLY BEEN WAITING ON THAT MOMENT.

I WAS GONE FOR A VERY SHORT TIME, GRABBED A SANDWICH, CAME BACK OUT, THERE WAS A SIX-FOOT RAT SNAKE IN THE PEN THAT HAD COMPLETELY SWALLOWED ONE OF THE YOUNG POULTS.

AND NOW COULD NOT GET OUT OF THE PEN, OF COURSE, BECAUSE OF THE LARGE LUMP IN ITS BODY.

I WAS HORRIFIED, AND THE REST OF THE TURKEYS WERE HORRIFIED, AND IT WAS A TERRIBLE MOMENT FOR ALL OF US.

I REALIZED THAT THESE BIRDS ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BE LEFT ALONE.

THERE ARE SO MANY PREDATORS READY TO STRIKE THESE YOUNG BIRDS.

AND I JUST HAD TO MAKE THE COMMITMENT RIGHT THERE THAT I'M NOT GOING TO LEAVE THEM ALONE, EVER.

UP UNTIL NOW, IT'S BEEN A FULL-TIME JOB JUST KEEPING THEM ALIVE.

BUT NOW MY LITTLE EXPERIMENT IS REALLY BEGINNING TO PAY OFF.

IT SEEMS AS IF A WHOLE WORLD IS OPENING UP TO ME.

IT'S NOT JUST THE BIRDS I'M GETTING CLOSE TO -- SOMEHOW, THEY ALLOW ME PASSAGE INTO A SECRET SIDE OF THESE OAK HAMMOCKS.

THE DIFFERENT BIRDS' PERSONALITIES ARE EXPRESSED IN THE WAY THEY EXPLORE THE FOREST.

THEY EVEN SEEM TO HAVE THEIR OWN INDIVIDUAL INTERESTS.

SWEET PEA AND ROSITA, FOR EXAMPLE, HAVE A PARTICULAR FASCINATION WITH SQUIRRELS.

TURKEY BOY MET A DEER TODAY.

I'M AMAZED HOW BOLD HE IS -- HE EVEN WALKED AND WAS NOSE-TO-NOSE WITH IT.

THEY WERE ABSOLUTELY UNAFRAID, THEY ABSOLUTELY KNEW THIS CREATURE WAS A BENEVOLENT NEIGHBOR AND NOT A POTENTIAL PREDATOR.

AND I THOUGHT THIS WAS A REMARKABLE DISCRIMINATION, CONSIDERING THAT A COYOTE, FOR EXAMPLE, IS A TAWNY BROWN ANIMAL WITH BIG EARS AND AN INTENSE STARE.

WHEN I'M WITH THESE TURKEYS, SNAKES NO LONGER RUN FROM ME.

CORRALLED BY THE BIRDS, A RAT SNAKE NOW TURNS TO FACE US.

THE TURKEYS KNOW JUST HOW TO DEAL WITH EACH SPECIES OF SNAKE.

IN SPITE OF THEIR INNATE KNOWLEDGE ABOUT DANGEROUS THINGS THEY ARE INHERENTLY DISTURBED BY TORTOISES AND TURTLES.

THEY JUST WON'T LEAVE THEM ALONE.

I THINK MAYBE THEY JUST VIEW THEM AS A SNAKE IN A BOX.

I NOW KNOW EACH OF THE BIRDS BY THEIR CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY AS MUCH AS BY THEIR APPEARANCE.

TURKEY BOY IS STILL UP TO HIS OLD TRICKS -- HE IS ALWAYS PUSHING HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS AROUND, BUT NO ONE SEEMS TO MIND TOO MUCH.

SWEET PEA STILL HAS THIS NEED FOR CLOSENESS.

SHE STARES MOTIONLESS AT ME FOR WHAT SEEMS LIKE A VERY LONG TIME, AND IT'S OBVIOUSLY A CONSCIOUS BEHAVIOR.

IT'S AS THOUGH SHE'S TRYING TO ABSORB SOMETHING.

BEING THE OBJECT OF SUCH INTENSE SCRUTINY BY SUCH A LITTLE THING IS A VERY STRANGE SENSATION.

I'D HAVE TO STAY WITH THE BIRDS ALL DAY, EVERY DAY UNTIL SUNSET.

THEN, IN THE CAGE, THE BIRDS WOULD ALL FLY UP AND ROOST WITH ME -- AND ON ME.

AND IF I TRIED TO LEAVE THE ROOST THEY WOULD TRY TO FOLLOW ME, SO I HAD TO STAY IN THE PEN UNTIL IT WAS COMPLETELY DARK.

THEN THEY WOULD FALL SOUND ASLEEP.

BUT I HAD TO BE THERE FROM DAWN UNTIL AFTER DARK EVERY DAY, AND THERE WERE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THAT.

♪♪ WELL, I FEEL LIKE AN OLD HOBO ♪♪ ♪♪ I'M SAD, LONESOME AND BLUE ♪♪ ♪♪ I WAS FAIR AS A SUMMER DAY ♪♪ ♪♪ NOW, THE SUMMER DAYS ARE THROUGH ♪♪ ♪♪ YOU PASS THROUGH PLACES ♪♪ ♪♪ THE PLACES YOU PASS THROUGH, YOU CARRY THEM WITH YOU ♪♪ ♪♪ ON THE SOLES OF YOUR TRAVELLING SHOES ♪♪ THEY HAVE THE BASIC BLUEPRINT ABOUT ALL THE PLANTS AND ALL THE ANIMALS.

IT'S INCREDIBLY COMPLETE.

BUT WHAT THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND IS THE LAY OF THE LAND, AND THAT WAS WHAT I KNEW.

♪♪ I WAKE YOU UP IN THE MORNING ♪♪ I KNEW WHERE THE WATER WAS.

I KNEW WHERE THE DANGERS WERE TO SOME EXTENT.

♪♪ I GOT THE WANDERING BLUES ♪♪ ♪♪ AND I'M GOING TO QUIT ♪♪ WE DIDN'T GO IN THE DIRECTION OF THE ROAD OR TO FARMER RODENBERRY'S HOUSE.

I TRIED TO TEACH THEM THAT AUTOMOBILES WERE A DANGEROUS THING.

THAT WAS VERY HARD TO DO.

WILD TURKEYS ARE A 20 MILLION YEAR OLD BIRD AND THEY DON'T HAVE A BLUEPRINT FOR AN AUTOMOBILE OR A PICK-UP.

[ BIRD CALLING ] EACH DAY AS I LEAVE THE CONFINES OF MY LANGUAGE AND CULTURE, THESE CREATURES SEEM TO BECOME IN EVERY WAY MY SUPERIORS.

THEY ARE MORE ALERT, SENSITIVE AND AWARE.

THEY'RE IN MANY WAYS, IN FACT, MORE INTELLIGENT.

THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE FOREST IS BEYOND MY ABILITY TO COMPREHEND.

TURKEYS DISPLAYED A TYPE OF OBSESSION OVER THE SIGHT OF A DEAD ANIMAL, AND THEY WOULD REVISIT THOSE SITES VERY CAUTIOUSLY, AND THEY WOULD EXAMINE VERY CLOSELY, AND OCCASIONALLY, THEY WOULD ACTUALLY PICK UP A BONE -- NOT IN A PLAYFUL WAY, BUT IN A CURIOUS WAY, AND DROP IT.

THEY WOULD OBSERVE THE SKELETON VERY INTENSELY.

AND IT SEEMED THAT THEY NEVER TIRED OF EXAMINING THIS DEAD ANIMAL AND TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE IMPLICATION OF THAT WAS.

THAT BEHAVIOR DOES NOT FACILITATE SURVIVAL DIRECTLY.

IT'S NOT ABOUT PREDATION, IT'S NOT ABOUT FOOD, IT'S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING THE WORLD.

THEY HAD A PERFECT MEMORY OF WHAT THAT ENTIRE FOREST WAS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE.

IF ANY OBJECT WAS OUT OF ORDER, IF A NEW LIMB HAD FALLEN OUT OF A TREE, THEY WOULD FIND THAT LIMB VERY DISTURBING.

THEY WOULD APPROACH A STUMP OF A FALLEN TREE OR A ROTTED TREE, AND THAT WAS A FASCINATING THING, AS MOST THINGS ARE TO WILD TURKEYS.

BUT, INTERESTINGLY, WHEN WE APPROACHED A VERY OLD STUMP, OF A TREE THAT HAD BEEN SAWN DOWN BY LOGGERS, SOMETHING ABOUT THAT WAS VERY DISTURBING TO A WILD TURKEY.

I THOUGHT IT WAS A FABULOUS AND INTERESTING RESPONSE, BUT I DON'T KNOW WHY.

BUT HERE WAS A STUMP THAT HAD BEEN CUT 10, 15, 20 YEARS BEFORE, AND YET THERE WAS SOMETHING NOT RIGHT ABOUT THAT, AND THE TURKEYS WOULD FIND IT VERY INTERESTING AND ACTUALLY DISTURBING.

I WAS ALWAYS A VERY ANXIOUS MOTHER HEN, AND, OF COURSE, HAVING NOT DONE THIS BEFORE, I NEVER KNEW THE RIGHT TIME FOR THINGS.

ONE NIGHT WE CAME IN FROM OUR USUAL DAILY WALK AND I EXPECTED THEM TO ENTER THE PEN LIKE THEY HAD SO MANY TIMES BEFORE, AND SUDDENLY THEIR BEHAVIOR CHANGED.

AND THEY STARTED EYEING THE TREES AND MAKING SOUNDS.

AND SUDDENLY, A TURKEY FLEW UP INTO A TREE.

AND ANOTHER TURKEY FLEW UP, AND THEY ALL BEGAN FLYING UP.

AND I REALIZED THAT THEY HAD MADE THIS DECISION THAT IT WAS TIME TO START ROOSTING IN THE TREES LIKE TURKEYS.

AND THEY WERE MAKING CONTENTED VOCALIZATIONS LIKE TURKEYS DO WHEN THEY GO ON THE ROOST -- LITTLE COMMUNICATION NOISES, 'HERE I AM, WHERE ARE YOU?' 'OKAY, THERE YOU ARE.'

AND I WAS FEELING A LITTLE BIT LET DOWN AND A LITTLE BIT LIKE I HAD BEEN EXCLUDED.

THIS WAS ONE TURKEY ACTIVITY THAT I COULDN'T PARTICIPATE IN, AND I FELT LIKE I HAD BEEN LEFT OUT.

AND I WENT OUT FEELING INSECURE, AND I MADE A LITTLE TURKEY NOISE -- A LITTLE MOTHER HEN NOISE.

[ GOBBLES ] AND SUDDENLY EVERYBODY CHATTERED, 'HERE WE ARE, EVERYTHING IS OKAY.'

[ TURKEYS SQUAWKING ] [ SUSTAINED SQUAWK ] TURKEYS IN GENERAL HAVE THIS MISPLACED REPUTATION FOR STUPIDITY.

THIS EXPERIMENT OF MINE HAS PROVEN QUITE THE OPPOSITE.

THERE ARE MANY THINGS THAT SUGGEST THAT WILD TURKEYS ARE INTELLIGENT.

BUT MY EXPERIENCE WITH LEARNING THEIR VOCABULARY HAS TAUGHT ME HOW PROFOUND THIS INTELLIGENCE ACTUALLY IS.

YOU HAVE TO BE THIS CLOSE TO A CREATURE TO UNDERSTAND HOW IT COMMUNICATES.

AND, IN FACT, THEY HAVE SPECIFIC VOCALIZATIONS FOR INDIVIDUAL ANIMALS.

AND I ACTUALLY LEARNED THESE VOCALIZATIONS, AND WHEN I WOULD HEAR A CERTAIN VOCALIZATION, I WOULD KNOW WITHOUT QUESTION THEY HAD FOUND A RATTLESNAKE, AND NOT A GRAY RAT SNAKE.

I HAVE IDENTIFIED OVER 30 SPECIFIC CALLS, AND MY VOCABULARY IS GROWING EVERY DAY.

I AM LEARNING TO TALK TURKEY.

[ MAKING TURKEY CALLS ] INTERESTINGLY, I LEARNED THAT, WITHIN EACH ONE OF THOSE CALLS THERE ARE INFLECTIONS THAT HAVE VERY DIFFERENT MEANINGS.

FOR EXAMPLE, ONE WOULD BE WHAT IS KNOWN AS A PURR.

[ COOING ] [ CONTINUES CALL ] MANY DIFFERENT MEANINGS DEPENDING ON THE INFLECTION, FROM SIMPLY, 'HERE I AM, WHERE ARE YOU?'

TO, 'CATASTROPHE IS ON THE WAY.'

[ CALLING ] A SIMPLE PLAIN YELP -- [ YELPING ] THAT WOULD MEAN YOU ARE OUT OF SIGHT NOW, AND YOU NEED TO COME CLOSER.

WHEN TURKEYS SEE A HAWK SOARING IN THE DISTANCE, AND THEY'RE NOT REALLY DISTURBED BY THE HAWK'S SOARING, BUT THEY WANT EVERYBODY TO KNOW IT'S THERE, AND SO THEY EMIT WHAT I CALLED A LOW NASAL WHINE, AND IT'S -- [ IMITATING CALL ] AND IT CAUSES EVERYONE TO BE STILL AND VERY QUIET.

[ WHISTLING ] I DIDN'T HAVE THE CAPACITY TO UNDERSTAND EVERY VOCALIZATION, BUT SOMEHOW I HAD THE CAPACITY TO UNDERSTAND THEIR MEANING, AND THAT WAS AN ALMOST MAGICAL THING THAT OCCURRED WITH THESE YOUNG BIRDS.

THEIR LANGUAGE AND THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE ECOLOGY SHOWS A REMARKABLE INTELLIGENCE.

BUT THEIR ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD GOES MUCH FURTHER THAN JUST COMMUNICATION.

I CAME TO REALIZE THAT THESE YOUNG TURKEYS IN MANY WAYS WERE MORE CONSCIOUS THAN I WAS.

I ACTUALLY FELT A SORT OF EMBARRASSMENT WHEN I WAS IN THEIR PRESENCE.

THEY WERE SO IN THE MOMENT.

AND, ULTIMATELY, THEIR EXPERIENCE OF THAT MANIFESTED IN A KIND OF JOY THAT I DON'T EXPERIENCE.

AND I WAS VERY ENVIOUS OF THAT.

IN SEARCH OF A GRASSHOPPER -- IT'S A CALLING AS STRONG AS ANY I'VE EVER KNOWN.

THEY ARE ALMOST THREE MONTHS OLD, AND I FIND MYSELF A FULLY FLEDGED MEMBER OF A TURKEY GANG.

WE RAID THE FIELD LIKE ANCIENT MARAUDING BARBARIANS.

INSECTS CAN HOP OR RUN AWAY, BUT THEY ARE LIKELY TO LAND AT THE FEET OF ANOTHER -- THIS IS A STRATEGY THAT MUST OCCUR WITH TURKEYS EVERYWHERE.

THIS IS INNATE COMMUNICATION UNLIKE ANY I'VE EVER KNOWN.

I FEEL A LITTLE LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST WHO, AFTER IMMERSING HIMSELF IN AN EXOTIC TRIBE, IS BECOMING CONFUSED ABOUT HIS OWN SOCIAL IDENTITY.

I HAVEN'T STARTED EATING GRASSHOPPERS YET, BUT THE SMOOTH GREEN ONES ARE BEGINNING TO LOOK PRETTY TASTY!

[ COOING ] AFFECTION IS A VERY ABSTRACT CONCEPT, ANYWAY, AND VERY HARD TO TALK ABOUT.

AND YET I WAS OBSERVING THIS EVERYDAY, THIS NEED FOR THESE TURKEYS TO BE TOUCHED, AND FOR CLOSENESS.

AND SO, IN THAT SENSE, WILD TURKEYS ARE VERY AFFECTIONATE AND THEY ARE VERY TACTILE.

I SAW IT MOST PROFOUNDLY IN SWEET PEA.

FROM VERY EARLY ON, SWEET PEA HAD THIS OVERWHELMING DESIRE TO BE CLOSE AND TO BE TOUCHING, AT ALL TIMES.

AND THERE WAS NEVER A TIME WHEN I WAS SITTING ON THE GROUND WHEN SWEET PEA WASN'T IN MY LAP.

AND IF I SAT THERE, SWEET PEA WOULD GO TO SLEEP, AND SHE EXPECTED TO BE STROKED AND CODDLED.

AND IT WAS A VERY INTERESTING RELATIONSHIP.

AND, OF COURSE, I FELL FOR IT HOOK, LINE AND SINKER, AND JUST FELL HEAD OVER HEELS IN LOVE WITH SWEET PEA.

AFFECTION IS SOMETHING YOU WOULD NEVER ANTICIPATE OR EXPECT FROM WILD TURKEYS, AND YET, IT WAS VERY APPARENT THAT THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT PART OF THEIR SOCIAL LIFE.

[ CAWING ] TODAY I LOST TWO BIRDS TO SOME UNKNOWN ILLNESS.

AND I FEEL HEARTBROKEN.

THERE IS NO QUESTION ABOUT MY CONNECTION TO THIS FAMILY.

AND THERE IS NO QUESTION WE ALL FEEL SOME DEEP SADNESS.

THE EFFECT ON THE GROUP IS PALPABLE.

EMOTIONS ARE CERTAINLY NOT PECULIAR TO THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE.

IN THEIR OBSERVATION OF DEATH, THE DEATH OF ANOTHER TURKEY THAT IS A MEMBER OF THEIR GROUP, IT'S A VERY CONSCIOUS BEHAVIOR, AS IF THEY ARE TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE MEANING OF THIS IS.

SHELTER FROM THE RAIN ON MY PORCH OF MY HUT IS ONE OF THE FEW PERKS THESE BIRDS HAVE GOTTEN FROM HAVING SUCH AN ODD PARENT.

IT SEEMS A LONG TIME HAS PAST SINCE I TENDED THESE BIRDS FROM THE EGG.

I'VE WALKED THESE OAK HAMMOCKS FOR OVER 20 YEARS AND I HAD NO IDEA HOW MANY RATTLESNAKES THERE WERE HERE.

I'D SEE MAYBE TWO IN A YEAR.

NOW, WITH THESE TURKEYS, WE'RE FINDING TWO OR THREE EVERY DAY.

TODAY WE CAME ACROSS A SIX-FOOT DIAMONDBACK.

I USED TO FEAR FOR THEM TERRIBLY, BUT NOW THERE'S NO QUESTION WHO'S IN CHARGE.

SWEET PEA AND ROSITA WERE INSISTENT -- THEY WANTED TO ESCORT THIS RATTLESNAKE OUT OF THE AREA.

THE NON-VENOMOUS INDIGO SNAKE GOT AN EVEN CLOSER INSPECTION FROM TURKEY BOY.

THIS KIND OF INTENSE INTERACTION IS BORN FROM A DESIRE TO REMAIN IN TOUCH WITH A POSSIBLE PREDATOR... ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES IT DOES FEEL LIKE IT'S BECOME A BIT OF A GAME FOR THEM.

I HAD NEVER CONSIDERED THAT THE WILD TURKEY WAS A PLAYFUL BIRD, BUT, IN FACT, THEY ARE PLAYFUL.

THEY'RE CURIOUS ABOUT THINGS THAT DON'T BENEFIT THEIR SURVIVAL DIRECTLY.

♪♪♪♪ THE WHITE-TAILED DEER HAS FAWNED LATE THIS YEAR, AND, AS ALWAYS, TURKEY BOY IS VYING FOR SOME REACTION.

BUT THIS TIME HE HAS BITTEN OFF MORE THAN HE CAN CHEW.

THE YOUNG DEER CAN GIVE AS GOOD AS SHE GETS!

[ MUSIC PLAYING OVER ] ♪♪ WHOO! WHOO! ♪♪ ♪♪ WHOO! WHOO! ♪♪ SWEET PEA'S FAVORITE IS FAR MORE AMIABLE.

THE FOX SQUIRREL SEEMS TO WANT TO PLAY AS MUCH AS SHE DOES.

THERE'S NO QUESTION IN MY MIND THAT THESE BIRDS EXPERIENCE JOY IN THEIR LIVES.

I WAS LEARNING NEW THINGS ABOUT TURKEYS EVERY DAY, BUT THIS WAS NOT JUST ABOUT HOW THEY LIVED THEIR LIFE -- THESE ANIMALS WERE SHOWING ME HOW TO LIVE MY LIFE, ALSO.

WE DO NOT HAVE A PRIVILEGED ACCESS TO REALITY.

SO MANY OF US LIVE EITHER IN THE PAST OR IN THE FUTURE, AND BETRAY THE MOMENT.

AND IN SOME SENSE, WE FORGET TO LIVE OUR LIVES.

AND THE WILD TURKEYS WERE ALWAYS REMINDING ME TO LIVE MY LIFE.

I THINK AS HUMANS WE HAVE THIS PECULIAR PREDISPOSITION TO BE ALWAYS THINKING AHEAD AND LIVING A LITTLE BIT IN THE FUTURE, ANTICIPATING THE NEXT MINUTE, THE NEXT HOUR, THE NEXT DAY, AND WILD TURKEYS DON'T DO THAT.

THEY ARE CONVINCED THAT EVERYTHING THAT THEY NEED, ALL THEIR NEEDS WILL BE MET ONLY IN THE PRESENT MOMENT AND IN THIS SPACE.

AND THE WORLD IS NOT BETTER A HALF A MILE THROUGH THE WOODS, IT'S NOT BETTER AN HOUR FROM NOW, AND ITS NOT BETTER TOMORROW -- THAT THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

AND, SO, THEY CONSTANTLY REMINDED ME TO DO BETTER, AND TO NOT LIVE IN THIS ABSTRACTION OF THE FUTURE -- WHICH, BY DEFINITION, WILL NEVER EXIST.

AND, SO, WE SORT OF BETRAY OUR LIVES IN THE MOMENT.

AND THE WILD TURKEYS REMINDED ME TO BE PRESENT, TO BE HERE.

[ CALLING ] FOR OVER A YEAR, DAY AFTER DAY WE NEVER SAW ANOTHER HUMAN BEING... WHICH WAS PERFECT.

BUT AS THE YEAR WORE ON I COULD FEEL ONE DAY SOON I WOULD WALK HOME ALONE.

IT WAS LATE AFTERNOON, I WAS SITTING IN THE THICK FOREST WITH SWEET PEA.

WE SUDDENLY REALIZED THAT THERE WERE NO TURKEYS AROUND US.

THEN WE STARTED LOOKING, AND WE REALIZED THAT THERE WERE NO TURKEYS IN THE AREA.

[ CALLING ] SWEET PEA BECAME VERY CONCERNED.

AND SHE ACTUALLY STARTED LOST-CALLING.

[ CALLING ] AND SO WE WALKED MAYBE A QUARTER OF A MILE, AND FINALLY WE SAW TURKEYS UP IN THE DISTANCE.

AND I THOUGHT THIS WAS REALLY STRANGE.

AND I DECIDED, OKAY, WE'RE GOING TO HEAD BACK TOWARDS HOME, AND I TURNED TO LEAVE.

NO ONE FOLLOWED ME.

AND, IN FACT, THEY STARTED HEADING OUT IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

IN FACT, THERE WAS A FARM IN THAT DIRECTION, THAT HAD YARD DOGS AND ALL SORTS OF THINGS THAT WE DIDN'T WANT TO ENCOUNTER.

AND I COULD NOT GET THE BIRDS TO LISTEN TO ME, THEY WOULD NOT FOLLOW FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

AND I BECAME VERY DISTURBED.

AND I LOST-CALLED AND ALL THE VOCALIZATIONS I NEED TO EMPLOY, AND THEY WOULD NOT -- THEY WOULD CHATTER ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, BUT THEY WOULDN'T FOLLOW ME.

AND BY THIS TIME I WAS JUST A NERVOUS WRECK, I WAS EXHAUSTED, I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON, AND I THOUGHT, I'VE LOST THESE BIRDS, I'M NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO GET THEM BACK.

AND I DID NOT WANT THIS TO END LIKE THIS.

EVENTUALLY I TRIED THE SAME TECHNIQUE -- GOT OUT IN FRONT, AND FINALLY THEY START VEERING OFF.

AND IT TOOK HOURS TO GET THE TURKEYS TURNED IN THE DIRECTION OF HOME.

BUT I REALIZED THAT EVERYTHING WAS DIFFERENT NOW.

THE LIFE THAT WE HAD KNOWN FOR THE LAST SIX OR NINE MONTHS HAD CHANGED, AND THEY WERE, FROM THAT POINT ON, FULLY WILD TURKEYS THAT CAME AND WENT AS THEY PLEASED.

THEY ALLOWED ME TO ACCOMPANY THEM, BUT I WAS NO LONGER THE PARENT.

I WAS JUST ANOTHER BIRD.

[ MUSIC PLAYING OVER ] WILD TURKEYS GROW UP FAST, AND I KNEW MY DAYS WITH THEM WERE NUMBERED.

BUT THESE TURKEYS HAD TAUGHT ME NOT TO BETRAY THE MOMENT FOR SOME ABSTRACTION UP AHEAD.

ONCE AGAIN, I'M A MAN IN SEARCH OF A GRASSHOPPER.

IT'S A CALLING AS STRONG AS ANY I'VE EVER KNOWN.

THIS MAKES ME WONDER SOMETIMES IF I HAVE GOTTEN IN A LITTLE TOO DEEP.

♪♪ BUT I TAKE COMFORT ♪♪ ♪♪ IN MY HOME, IN MY HEART ♪♪ ♪♪ TO MAKE A KIND OF PEACE ♪♪ ♪♪ IT'S A KIND OF PEACE ♪♪ ♪♪ AND ABOVE ME ♪♪ ♪♪ IF THERE IS NOTHING ♪♪ ♪♪ AND NO ONE KNEW ♪♪ ♪♪ I REALLY CARE ♪♪ ♪♪ IT'S JUST A NOW ♪♪ THE PEACE IS BEING BROKEN MORE AND MORE EACH DAY.

IT'S NOT JUST TURKEY BOY -- NOW ALL THE MALES PRACTICE DISPLAYING, GETTING READY TO DO BATTLE.

THE MALES WILL NEED TO FIGHT THEIR WAY TO THE NEXT STAGE OF THEIR LIVES.

ONLY THE TOUGHEST WILL GET TO MATE.

AND AS THESE PRACTICE BOUTS SHOW, WHEN THE REAL FIGHTING STARTS IT'LL BE FEROCIOUS.

AS I LOOKED ON, I HAD NO WAY OF KNOWING HOW I WAS GOING TO BE A PART OF THIS RITE OF PASSAGE.

[ TURKEY CALLING ] IT'S OVER A YEAR INTO THE PROJECT, AND I AM STARTING TO SEE THE BIRDS LESS AND LESS.

IT'S NATURAL FOR THE YOUNG JAKES TO MOVE AWAY FROM THE GROUP, AND THE HENS, TOO, SHOULD BE DISAPPEARING SOON.

BUT I CAN'T HELP BUT FEEL A DEEP SADNESS -- DAY AFTER DAY THEY'VE BEEN MY ONLY COMPANY.

SWEET PEA, SHE STILL STAYS CLOSE BY, AND TURKEY BOY, HE REMAINS THE CLOSEST OF FRIENDS, BUT SOME OF THE OTHERS ARE DRIFTING AWAY.

[ CALLING ] AND THEN SOMETHING VERY SPECIAL HAPPENED -- SWEET PEA STARTED NESTING NEARBY.

IF SHE HATCHES HER BROOD WITH ME HERE, IT COULD START A WHOLE NEW AVENUE OF RESEARCH -- A NEW ACCESS TO THE REALITY OF THE WILD TURKEY.

I HAD NOTIONS OF POSSIBLY BEING ABLE TO DO A PARTIAL IMPRINTING THING ON HER BROOD WHERE THEY WOULD ACCEPT MY COMPANY WITHOUT BEING DISTURBED, AND I THOUGHT THAT WOULD BE A NEW AND INTERESTING PERSPECTIVE.

EVENTUALLY SWEET PEA DIDN'T SHOW UP ONE DAY, AND I THOUGHT, SHE'S HATCHED HER BABIES.

EVENTUALLY, I THOUGHT, WELL, I'LL GO AND INSPECT HER NEST SITE.

AND I WENT THERE, AND IMMEDIATELY SAW FEATHERS.

AND I REALIZED THAT SWEET PEA HAD, IN FACT, BEEN KILLED ON THE NEST.

AND THE EGGS WERE CRUSHED AND DESTROYED AND PARTIALLY EATEN.

IT WAS A VERY DISTURBING MOMENT, HEARTBREAKING.

IT MADE ME REALIZE HOW DEEP MY INVOLVEMENT WAS WITH THESE BIRDS.

BUT WHEN EVERYONE LEFT, TURKEY BOY WAS THE ONE WHO EVENTUALLY CAME BACK.

AND ONCE HE DID, HE NEVER WANTED TO LEAVE.

AND SO WE DEVELOPED AN INCREDIBLE COMPANIONSHIP.

IT WAS CLEAR I WAS NO LONGER THIS WILD TURKEY'S PARENT.

WE HAD ACTUALLY BECOME BROTHERS.

I'VE SPENT A LIFETIME STUDYING WILD ANIMALS -- BEARS, PRIMATES -- I DON'T THINK I'VE EVER HAD A CLOSE COMMUNICATION WITH AN ANIMAL LIKE I HAD WITH TURKEY BOY.

IT WAS TRULY PHENOMENAL.

AND I RECOGNIZED THIS, AND I SPENT EVERY AVAILABLE MINUTE I COULD WITH HIM BECAUSE I FELT LIKE IT WAS SUCH A RARE OPPORTUNITY.

THE DEPTH OF OUR RELATIONSHIP AND THE EXTRAORDINARY COMMUNICATION WE HAD, AND YET, TURKEY BOY HAD THE ABILITY TO CONVEY TO ME VERY SPECIFIC MEANINGS, ABOUT WHAT HE WANTED TO DO, WHAT HE EXPECTED FROM ME, WHERE HE WANTED TO GO, HOW HE WANTED TO SPEND HIS DAY.

THE COMMUNICATION WAS VERY COMPLETE, IT'S PRETTY REMARKABLE WHEN A MAN AND A BIRD... UNLIKE ANYTHING I'D EVER EXPERIENCED.

OF COURSE, IT WAS INEVITABLE THAT ALL THIS WAS GOING TO END.

TURKEY BROTHERS STAY TOGETHER.

BUT AS A HUMAN, OF COURSE, I HAD TO RETURN TO MY OWN SPECIES.

BUT NOTHING COULD HAVE PREPARED ME FOR THE FEROCITY OF WHAT CAME NEXT.

I HAPPENED TO LOOK UP, AND TURKEY BOY'S FACE WAS RIGHT NEXT TO MY FACE.

AND HE WAS JUST GLOWING WITH THESE VIVID COLORS OF PURPLE AND RED AND BLUE.

AND HE HAD A FIERCE LOOK IN HIS EYE, PREDATORY LOOK.

I THOUGHT THAT WAS STRANGE, AND I REACHED OUT MY HAND AND HE PECKED AT THE BACK OF MY HAND AND ACTUALLY DREW BLOOD.

AND I DIDN'T HIT AT HIM, I JUST PUSHED HIM BACK, WITH MY HAND ON HIS BREAST, GET BACK!

AND THAT WAS THE TRIGGER.

SUDDENLY HE UNDERSTOOD WHAT OUR RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRULY BE AS BROTHERS.

AND HE IMMEDIATELY ATTACKED ME.

AND HE JUMPED UP AND HE SPURRED ME IN THE BACK, AND GOUGED ME -- REALLY HURT ME.

HE JUMPED UP AT MY FACE, WHICH IS REALLY DANGEROUS -- THEY CAN BLIND YOU WITH THEIR BIG POINTED SPURS.

I WAS BLEEDING -- MY EAR WAS BLEEDING, THE BACK OF MY HANDS WERE BLEEDING, AND SO I JUMPED BACK UP AND I GRABBED THIS PINE BOUGH, AND I SWUNG AS HARD AS I COULD... HITTING TURKEY BOY ON THE SIDE OF THE HEAD, WHICH LITERALLY KNOCKED HIM DOWN.

AND HE GOT UP, HE TURNED AROUND, AND HE RAN OUT OF SIGHT, AS FAST AS HE COULD RUN.

AND THAT WAS THE LAST TIME I SAW TURKEY BOY.

FOR WEEKS AND MONTHS, I WOULD GO OUT INTO OUR OLD AREA AND I WOULD GO THERE AND I WOULD SIT FOR HOURS SOMETIMES, FULLY EXPECTING FOR SOMEONE TO WALK IN, A FAMILIAR FACE.

AND NO ONE EVER CAME.

AND, IN FACT, THEIR ABSENCE SEEMED TO CHANGE THE ECOLOGY ENTIRELY.

AND THE RATTLESNAKES SEEMED TO DISAPPEAR.

AND I REALIZED THAT THE TURKEYS HAD AFFORDED ME THIS PRIVILEGED EXPERIENCE, THIS INSIGHT INTO THEIR WORLD THAT HAD FINALLY CLOSED ITS DOORS TO ME.

[ MUSIC PLAYING OVER ] ♪♪ DOES IT GET LONELY IN THE DAY ♪♪ ♪♪ ALL BY YOURSELF ♪♪ ♪♪ IN THIS BIG OLD PLACE ♪♪ ♪♪ DO YOU EVER COME OUT AND PLAY ♪♪ ♪♪ SCREAM OUT LOUD OR WALK THE STAGE ♪♪ ♪♪ AND MAYBE YOU ARE LOOKING DOWN TONIGHT ♪♪ ♪♪ MAYBE YOU CAN SEE ♪♪ ♪♪ BURNING LIKE AN OLD SPOTLIGHT ♪♪ ♪♪ SHINING DOWN ON ME ♪♪

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