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No, this is too much of a myth. In the US, having turkey meat during thanksgiving feasts is a culture that doesn’t seem to end soon. As a matter of fact, turkey meat is very delicious. Now here comes an allegation that turkeys are the dumbest animals on earth. In fact, people claim the “silly” birds can drown when staring at the rain.
This has been a question, if not a debate in almost every household. Probably its stupidity alludes from its awkward walking style and its widely open eyes. Also, it could be because of turkeys’ propensity for behavior that can be lethal.
Turkeys have an awkward staring tendency; they can stare at the sky for over 30 seconds, even in the wake of a storm. This is an act that can potentially cause drowning. However, it is an inherited condition called tetanic torticollis spasms and not a gesture of stupidity. The birds do not necessarily drown.
What Makes the Myth Seem True
When raising domesticated turkeys, we confine them for a few weeks of their early lives. This helps in keeping them away from severe weather conditions as well as keeping them away from predators. If you have at least raised a turkey chick, you can attest to this.
As a result, when young turkeys are released to the outside world and encounter rain, they at first get confused. This is because they do not know how to react or live in such an environment. In such occurrences, the little inexperienced turkeys may panic, making them more vulnerable to accidents caused by the panic.
Another reason you would believe that domesticated turkeys are the dumbest is by comparing them to the wild turkey. For quite some time now, domesticated turkeys are raised in captivity hence lacking survival skills like the wild turkey. They are weak, fat, not agile, cannot fly, nor can they run fast.
For this reason, turkeys find it difficult for them to survive by themselves in an unprotected environment. Therefore, they tend to panic when something unusual such as rains occurs. When frightened, they run the best they can until they approach some barrier to progress, e.g., walls. At such barrier points, they may still try to escape, and in the process, pile on each other. This would probably suffocate the turkeys at the bottom of the heap.
If you are a turkey farmer or have done some excellent research on the birds, you would agree that it takes almost a miracle for turkey chicks to survive. One of the main factors affecting their mortality rates is the weather. Therefore, when it rains, it is not the rain itself that kills the birds. It is hard for young turkeys to maintain their body temperature due to lack of feathers.
Why Turkey Drowning in Rain Is Just a Myth
It is a fact that a staring behavior characterizes turkeys. More often, they stare up at the sky transfixed with their bills wide open. This is not only observed when it’s raining but also during other weather conditions.
Another weakness of this myth is that turkeys have monocular vision and not binocular like we humans have. Their eyes are on the sides of their heads, and hence they look on two opposite sides simultaneously. It means that at a particular time can both eyes focus on the same object. Even though this feature is essential in avoiding potential predators, it limits their depth of vision.
Actually, for turkeys to have a better look at something, they tend to tilt their heads to the side. Therefore, a turkey will not tilt its head backward when looking at the rain since it will have difficulties to focus on raindrops. So, the claim that turkeys stare at the rain is not valid. If it were, they would instead tilt the heads sideways rather than throwing them backward.
Some people also argue that turkeys are probably fascinated by rains. This beats logic and hence not a fact. For animals to get attracted, they require some level of intelligence. Though not trying to portray the birds as dumb, the smartest turkey would not possess such levels of intelligence.
Animals such as turkey react to a phenomenon like rain in two ways. Either by if ignoring it when they don’t mind it or if they don’t, they seek shelter from it. Staring at it is not among the options.
Are Turkeys Stupid or Curious
The idea of turkeys drowning in the rain is attributed to a claim that the birds are stupid. If it were to be judged based on turkeys’ brains, it would probably be correct. This is because the brain of a turkey is approximately just 2% of its body weight. However, there is no proof that intelligence measures are directly proportional to brain size.
On the other hand, turkeys are thought to be among the most curious birds. As a result of their curiosity, turkeys find themselves in some “sticky situations” that would be life-threatening. Being curious is a sign of being smart and not dumb.
What Turkeys Do to Keep Warm When It Rains
Just like any other birds do, turkeys also make use of their feathers to keep warm when it rains. The feathers are very efficient insulators. When rained on, turkeys will fluff their feathers and create air pockets to trap heat. The air pockets also help in reducing heat loss.
Another adaptation to keep birds warm is an oil gland located above their tails. When it rains, the oil gland spreads its oil all over the birds’ feathers hence making them waterproof. As a result, this prevents the feathers from getting soaked by rainwater, minimizing the risk of hypothermia. If wondering how this happens, birds rub their heads against the area right above their tails and after the head, on other body parts.
Generally, this works better for big birds than the smaller ones. This is because of the smaller the bird, the higher the surface area to volume ratio. It means that smaller birds will lose heat quickly from their smaller energy reserves.
When the birds’ feathers get soaked in water, the air pockets are instead filled with water. This causes a bird to get cold very quickly and would quickly lead to death. Similarly, when young turkeys get rained on and their air pockets filled with water, they suffer hypothermia and die.
It is not disputable that turkeys are observed staring at the sky from time to time. But the claim that they stare the rains to a drowning point is simply an assumption that lacks factual backup. It is actually a genetic disorder associated with domesticated turkeys that causes neurological spasms.
Turkeys suffering such disorders have awkward behaviors; one of them is staring at the sky. They extend their necks, tilting their heads to the back and their beaks pointing at the sky. This does not necessarily happen only when it is raining.
Turkeys are amazing birds to rear and probably make good money out of them, if not just a meal. Referring to them as the dumbest animals to that extent of drowning themselves in the rain is not fair at all. In fact, we should debunk this myth.
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36 years old, been hunting and fishing my entire life – love the outdoors, family, and all kinds of hunting and fishing! I have spent thousands of hours hunting hogs and training hunting dogs, but I’m always learning new stuff and really happy to be sharing them with you! hit me up with an email in the contact form if you have any questions.