Let's Talk Turkey Smarts, Hugs & More!
Updated: Nov 1
Did you know if you toss an apple to a group of turkeys, they will play with it like a football? Just like dogs, cats or other companions that share our home, these magnificent birds create long-lasting social bonds with each other and humans; they love to be stroked, petted and cuddled and they HUG!
While most of us can comfortably relate to a dog or a cat as being able to feel pain and emotions such as sadness, happiness, affection and grief, so why is it a different story when it comes to the animals chosen to be ‘farm animals’ and consumed?
Despite the vast knowledge that counters the stereotype of turkeys being 'dumb birds,' many still see these intelligent and playful birds as merely a meal. But if you have ever been lucky enough to spend time with a turkey, you are already aware of how amazing these animals are.
Full-Colour Vision & Rocking the Tunes
Turkeys have excellent vision and can see in full colour. Because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, they have periscopic vision, allowing them to see objects that are not in their direct line of sight. A turkey’s field of vision is 270 degrees, compared to only 180 degrees in humans!
Although they do not have external ears (they have ear openings covered by a small flap of fuzz), they have excellent hearing, love listening to music, and will cluck along with the songs.
Sing Along with Mom
The social life of turkeys begins long before hatching! Like most birds, a nesting turkey hen clucks, whistles, and croons to each chick growing inside the egg. This interaction is critical to the survival of the chicks as they bond with their mothers. Turkeys even purr!
They show us when they're angry!
A turkey’s head and throat will change to blue when calm, bright red when stressed or angry, and a mixture of red, blue, and white when content.
The colours are caused by the blood vessels directly under the skin. When a turkey’s emotions change, the blood vessels contract. This changes how the incoming light scatters and reflects off the turkey’s skin, causing it to appear blue or white.
Related to T-Rex? Yes!
The furcula (the technical term for wishbone) is a bone found in dinosaur skeletons and today’s birds – paleontologists point to this bone as evidence that these birds descended from dinosaurs!
The furcula is situated on the bird’s chest and plays a vital role in flight mechanics. Unfortunately for many of today’s turkeys, farming uses artificial selection for large breast muscles and bodies which has led to birds who cannot even fly.
Turkey Beards are a Thing!
While the beard is always present in male turkeys, approximately 30% of female turkeys also have one; some males boast not just one but two beards, with the number sometimes going up to eight!
The beard is comprised of specialized feathers called filoplumes. A beard grows with age and may be used by females to indicate good health and longevity. Others believe the modified feathers serve a sensory function and tell the bird when their contour feathers need adjusting.
Two Stomachs & They Eat Stones? Wow!
Turkeys (and chickens, for that matter) swallow pebbles or small stones to aid digestion. The stones are stored in an organ called the gizzard, where the mechanical breakdown of food occurs since turkeys do not have teeth.
Turkeys might not have teeth, but they do have two stomachs! The glandular stomach is where food is softened and broken down by gastric juices. The food then enters the second stomach, the muscular gizzard, which further dissolves the food by grinding it against the stones.
Presidential Pardons for Turkeys?
It’s widely believed that the first presidential pardon for turkeys started when Abraham Lincoln’s son pleaded that the bird intended for Christmas dinner had a right to live just like any other creature, but it wasn’t until 1989 during George H.W. Bush’s administration that the official pardoning ceremony started.
Let’s Start New Traditions
Turkeys have personalities as distinct and varied as companion animals, and since we truly do not need animal-based foods to survive (or thrive) it's time that we abolish speciesism. Discrimination is outdated. We know too much now, right? And, factory farming (inc. dairy farming) is detrimental to the planet - when we combine turkeys, chickens, pigs and cows/cattle. We can do better. Let's not only be the change, but EAT the change.
Around the Lower Mainland and British Columbia are animal sanctuaries with rescued turkeys living out their lives peacefully and protected. Here are three worth pecking into:
The Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary - Aldergrove
Kindred Community Farm Sanctuary - Semiahmoo
Our post about turkey love would not be complete without giving a shout out...ummm, snort out, to Esther the Pig's dear friend, Cornelius (AKA Corno - scroll down this page to find him and other "residents" or watch his videos on Instagram).
Virchew invites you to consider not only keeping turkeys off your tables and plates (or out of your dog's bowl), but also sharing the love by supporting the above rescue sanctuaries with visits, volunteering, and donations to continue their amazing work!
PS - want to dish up new dinner options for Thanksgiving or anytime? Try these tasty foods that are available through Greater Vancouver's own, Vegan Supply! And, of course, if you want to give Virchew a try for your doggo, fetch a FREE Sample here.