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Wild Turkey See, Wild Turkey Do

This Turkey Tuesday is about the development of behaviors in wild turkeys, which often seem to resemble what we think of as playing games. Wild turkeys have obvious behaviors we get to observe while afield, but have you ever wondered how they develop those behaviors? Research has shown that what we as humans view as play is an important factor that influences behavioral development. These 2 jakes playing a classic game of keep-away begins when poults are days old, as they strut, perform threat displays, and crouch for each other. As they gain the ability to fly, turkeys initiate short flights over obstacles and each other, which later in life helps them use flight to avoid danger. As poults age, they chase each other, perform sparring contests without contacting each other, and act in ways that seems almost mischievous – if you’ve watched domestic turkeys or chickens, you’ve likely seen such behaviors. It also appears that mimicking occurs often in wild turkeys as they perform these behaviors, with a single individual initiating the behavior and then others following suit – often in no obvious order. The take home is, wild turkeys have complex behaviors that we enjoy as hunters and turkey enthusiasts, and those behaviors develop through repetition starting at a young age and progressing through their lives.

Picture of jakes © Tes Randle Jolly

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