In years past I have written about my experiences raising turkeys. You may remember I argued back then that turkeys—the avian variety at least—are smarter than we think. I based this on the solid scientific evidence drawn from first-hand observations.
For example, turkeys do not drown in heavy rain as a result of looking up in wonder and thereby allowing the rain to run down their throats—they are smart enough to use their wings as umbrellas. I, on the other hand, nearly drowned making that observation, because I only took a flashlight and not an umbrella.
We should remember, however, that turkeys were domesticated by humans and therefore have picked up some of our peculiar behaviors.
I have witnessed in turkeys, for example, what I call the “Miss Butler syndrome.” Miss Butler was a very attractive intern teacher during my sophomore year in high school. She was, as we guys in her class reasoned, really only a few years older than us, so we had no problem making fools of ourselves by trying to impress her, more often than not, through humor, particularly our physical ability to make rude noises with a cupped hand and an armpit. She, of course, considered us aliens from Mars.
As it turns out, male turkeys are also subject to raging hormones. In the years we were raising turkeys, we had a neighbor down the road who was a single woman. Whenever she came for a visit, the instant she stepped out of her car, the male turkeys, which, we must remember, were technically teenagers in terms of turkey years, made fools of themselves. They would puff themselves up, fan their tail feathers, lower their wing tips to the ground, strut, and let out loud gobbles.
They did not do this when my wife went near the pen, nor did they strut for any of our other married female friends. Only this single woman could trigger cross-species lust. How they knew she was single, I do not know. And like Miss Butler, she ignored their juvenile advances, no doubt because she suspected in those gobbles were sophomoric jokes about flatulence.
Then there is the “Scream 3” phenomenon, which shows that turkeys, both male and female, are subject to peer pressure and dumb choices.
One hot summer afternoon many years back I was working in the vegetable garden, which shared a fence with the turkey pen. Normally when I was in the garden, the turkeys would crowd against that common fence in anticipation of my throwing bolted lettuce or uprooted weeds to them as a snack. But this day was different.
Instead of acting like a scrum of bridesmaids seeking the best locations in which to receive the bouquets I would toss, they were crouching, heads down, along the perimeter of the pen and making strange cooing sounds.
I noticed that occasionally they would turn their heads and look skyward. So I looked up, and there, at about 36,000 feet, was a speck in the sky, a commercial airliner headed south. It had gone unnoticed by me, but because of better eyesight, the turkeys saw it and made the assumption it was a bird of prey.
I’m not sure which one noticed the “threat” first. I suspect it was a hen. Because turkey hens are intensely social creatures and travel everywhere in groups, when “Turkey Little” determined that the sky was about to fall and communicated that to the rest of the hens, they all fell into a panic.
That panic finally spread to the males, who normally didn’t pay much attention to the hens because they were too busy practicing flatulence jokes and waiting for our single female friend to drive up. And just like their human counterparts in a teenage horror film, the entire flock chose the least safe place to hide:
Teen Turkey 1: OMG! It’s an Airbus A-320 Chicken Hawk! What should we do?
Teen Turkey 2: I know! Let’s hide in the roost shelter where it can’t see us!
Teen Turkey 3: No wait! I’ve got a better idea! Let’s lie down on the ground in the open and close our eyes!
Teen Turkeys 1 and 2: Great idea!
So as you can see, turkeys suffer some of the same foibles as humans. That’s something to keep in mind over the next 12 months of presidential politics.