The Psychology of Turkeys

We don’t like to think about it, but there’s no denying it – that turkey that’s now your Thanksgiving dinner was once alive. It was once a living, breathing, gobbling being with hopes, dreams, a loving family, career aspirations.

But what really goes on inside the minds of turkeys? I decided I’d do my best to ruin your Thanksgiving dinner by looking through the research literature for clues into the inner lives of turkeys, then sharing my findings with you. Here’s what I found.

1. Turkeys choose their friends

We all like to be selective in our friends, and turkeys are no exception. A 2004 study found that Australian brush-turkey chicks show a preference for affiliating with robotic turkeys that are pecking as opposed to those that are looking around or motionless.

2. They sometimes engage in cannibalism

If it makes you feel better about eating turkeys, you should know that on occasion they eat each other. Turkeys have been known to engage in cannibalism, and beak trimming is one way poultry farmers reduce rates of death due to violent pecking and cannibalism.

3. They have favorite foods

When they aren’t eating each other, turkeys enjoy other delicacies like fruits, seeds and mealworms. A 2002 study found that Australian brush-turkey chicks peck at mealworms significantly more than pebbles or seeds. The same study showed that these birds select foods to peck at based on visual cues like color contrast, movement and reflective surfaces.

If the conversation starts to lag at your Thanksgiving dinner, consider sharing some of these facts about turkeys with your family and friends! You’ll be sure to impress them with your detailed and seasonally appropriate knowledge of turkey psychology.

Image: Flickr/grassrootsgroundswell