by Jennifer Sartell
Turkeys are amazing. This has been our first year raising these beautiful, large birds and I must say I’ve learned a lot! When we first decided to raise turkeys, I thought they would be like big chickens. And granted, many things about their care are similar. But the personality of a turkey, their quirkiness, gentleness and natures are much different.
In my head, I generalize poultry into categories. Chickens are busy, ducks are jolly, and now that I’ve spent some time with turkeys, I would describe them as majestic. They are graceful and deliberate. They work together as a flock and problem solve. Our first run with our Black Spanish turkeys has been wonderful and I plan on being a turkey keeper for life!
Here are 9 Turkey-isms that you might not know.
Turkeys don’t scratch
The term chicken scratch used to describe someone’s messy handwriting is an appropriate term. If one was to attribute a style of handwriting to turkeys, it could be an elegant Victorian script. They just don’t scratch. When I give them food and water in their bowls, it stays put until it is eaten. It doesn’t get thrown around and scattered everywhere. The turkeys also don’t find it necessary to stand, wade, flap in their food and water dishes. They line up in a neat circle, take a drink or a bite and move on.
Turkey’s heads change color
At first, I thought that I was simply noticing different turkeys (or loosing my mind, which is completely possible). We have nine turkeys and one day Zach and I were trying to figure out which members of our flock we were going to keep as a mating pair. I told Zach I wanted to keep the big one with the red head. When we went out to look at the turkeys, none of them had red heads. Blue with red wattles, or light pink, but not red. Then the next day, the one with the red head was back, but wait…there was another one with a red head. After watching the turkeys, I realized that their heads do in fact change color. I’ve tried to match a stimuli to this phenomenon, and it seems that when the males are displaying their feathers their heads turn a bright blue and their necks or caruncle and snood (the tube of skin over their beaks) turn vibrant red. When they are calm, their heads range from a light blue to pink, and when they are angry or trying to be intimidating, I’ve seen the red envelope their entire face. The females seem to stay a constant pink.
Their snood changes shape
Shortly after realizing that turkey’s heads change color, I realized that their snoods change shape as well. When the males display, the snood flattens and hangs long and loose over their beaks. When they are relaxed, it draws in and shortens into a small wrinkled pyramid.
They can fly…I mean FLY!
Before we got turkeys, we set up a large run with 5 foot fencing and T-posts. Inside the barn we made an area out of dog kennel fencing that’s 7 foot tall. When the turkeys were big enough, we put them in their new home. The next day I went into the barn to find turkeys loose everywhere. They had easily scaled the 7 foot fence and were investigating the top and bottom of our two story barn. So we tied lengths of baling twine across the top. They had the bailing twine figured out in about an hour, and were back loose again. So we gave in and for the summer, the turkeys had the free range of the farm. The coop de grace was when I found them on the peak of the roof of our two story barn!
Well…strut is more like it. The males have an incredible range and control of their feathers.
When they want to impress a female they make this pfffft noise and they raise all of their feathers up on end and fan their massive tails. They hold their wings down at their sides like little body builders flexing their muscles. Then they shake and make the pfffft noise again.
They can also oscillate their tales as they strut back and forth in front of a female so that the large flat side of their tails are always facing her.
They don’t fight with their feet
Our turkeys rarely fight, but occasionally they’ll get into a squabble. And unlike roosters, they don’t rear up and gouge with spurs. Instead, they carry out the battle of Who’s Head Can Be On Top. The turkeys get really close, breast to breast and their heads and necks will go up and over…up and over each other. The one on top will try to push the other one’s head down and it goes on until something more interesting happens that distracts them.
They follow, but won’t be chased
This has something to do with the turkeys working with each other in a flock dynamic. We learned quickly (after they outsmarted our best attempts to pen them) that chasing turkeys back to where they needed to be didn’t work. When you try to “herd” a flock of turkeys, the flock splits and separates, then reconvening behind you.
We ended up training our turkeys to come when called with grain, and they will follow us anywhere.
Only males gobble
For the longest time our turkeys would only “tweet”. It’s not just a “tweet” but more like a long “thweeeeip”, and then they would sort of purr. But no gobbling! When we got turkeys I couldn’t wait to hear the signature turkey “gobble”. We used to hear the wild ones in the woods and it was amazing! We waited and waited…but only tweeting. Someone told me that if you “laugh” with a turkey, like a big “ha ha ha” kind of laugh, that they will gobble at you. So like two ninnys, Zach and I went out and “ha ha, laughed” with the turkeys. The turkeys looked at us like two idiots, as I’m sure did the neighbors, and continued on tweeting. I did some research to see at what age they started gobbling, and read that only males gobbled. Then I was worried that perhaps we only had a flock of females, which might make things difficult come breeding season.
But our turkeys were just late bloomers and now gobble beautifully! And they will infact gobble at you if you laugh. They’ll also gobble back if you gobble first…which I do often…and the neighbors suspicions are confirmed.
Female turkeys can reproduce by themselves
Ok, this one I need some help with. I heard this a long time ago, but I can’t find a reliable source to confirm/disprove so I’m wondering if it’s a wives-tale. I’ve heard that if a female turkey is kept alone, she can hatch a fertile egg by herself, but the poult is always male and thus she can create a flock. Sort of like the frog/dinosaur thing in Jurassic Park? What have you guys heard?