Many people think of turkeys as little more than a holiday centerpiece, but turkeys are social, playful birds who enjoy the company of others. They relish having their feathers stroked and like to chirp, cluck, and gobble along to their favorite tunes. Anyone who spends time with them on farm sanctuaries quickly learns that turkeys are as varied in personality as dogs and cats.
When not forced to live on filthy factory farms, turkeys spend their days caring for their young, building nests, foraging for food, taking dustbaths, preening themselves, and roosting high in trees.
Turkeys have been genetically modified to gain weight rapidly because fatter turkeys mean fatter wallets for farmers. But in nature, the turkey’s athletic prowess is truly impressive. Wild turkeys can fly at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. The natural lifespan of the turkey is between 10 and 12 years, but on factory farms they are slaughtered when they’re just 5 months old.
Male turkeys, or “toms,” are bigger and have more colorful plumage than female turkeys, or “hens.” The males attract females with their wattles, colorful flaps of skin around their necks, and tufts of bristles that hang from their chests.
Turkeys are born with full-color vision just like our own, and in nature they stay with their mothers for up to the first five months of their lives. These gentle birds are very bonded to their young—in the wild, a mother turkey will courageously defend her family against predators.
Erik Marcus, the author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, has spent a considerable amount of time with turkeys on farm sanctuaries. He reports, “Turkeys remember your face and they will sit closer to you with each day you revisit. Come back day after day and, before long, a few birds will pick you out as their favorite and they will come running up to you whenever you arrive. It’s definitely a matter of the birds choosing you rather than of you choosing the birds. Different birds choose different people.”