Amelia's Amazing Personality

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Amelia's Amazing Personality

By Karen Davis, Ph.D., United Poultry Concerns (Thanksgiving Eve, 2010)

The suffering of turkeys in food production forms a bleak contrast to turkeys’ innate zest for life when they are free to express the dignity, energy and joy nature gave them. Wild turkeys walk, run, fly, roost, chase each other for fun, shout to each other through the trees – they even occasionally swim!

Just yesterday, I watched our turkey Amelia scoot Bisquet the rooster away from her peas. Each time Bisquet tried to get a beak in edgewise, Amelia informed him, in no uncertain terms, “No!” I’d poured the peas out on the ground, especially for Amelia, telling her to “hurry up and eat these peas before anyone else gets here!”

I watched her peck each pea precisely in the late afternoon, when along comes Bisquet, whom she doesn’t quite like, trying to raid her pea patch, but just watch her – between bites – hustle him off in her snoody way, with an unequivocal “No means No!” Of course Bisquet keeps making his play – partly it is play, an edgy little game between them.

Amelia came to our sanctuary three years ago as a very young turkey given up by some local people. She has always been serenely confident, totally at home with our chickens, friendly with people, fine with the peacock, and closest of all to our elderly white Pekin duck, Terrain. These two like to sit side by side together in the sun, and they’re the last ones in at night. They like a quiet time together before turning in, after the chickens have settled on their perches, and the sun has just about set. First Terrain waddles geriatrically into the Big House, followed reluctantly and ploddingly by Amelia, who would much rather sleep outside all night in a bed of autumn leaves, only she mightn’t be there in the morning once the predatory night stalkers have moved in.

The suffering of turkeys in food production forms a bleak contrast to turkeys’ innate zest for life when they are free to express the dignity, energy and joy nature gave them. Wild turkeys walk, run, fly, roost, chase each other for fun, shout to each other through the trees – they even occasionally swim!

Researching my book More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, I learned a lot about turkey playfulness. Naturalist Joe Hutto tells for instance how one morning the 3-month old turkeys he was lovingly raising were so happy to see him, they dropped down from the branch where they had sat “softly chattering . . . stretched their wings and did their strange little dance, a joyful dance, expressing an exuberance.”

A witness who chanced upon an evening dance of adult turkeys in the woods wrote:

I heard a flock of wild turkeys calling. They were not calling strayed members of the flock. They were just having a twilight frolic before going to roost. They kept dashing at one another in mock anger, stridently calling all the while, almost playing leapfrog in their antics. Their notes were bold and clear. For about five minutes they played on the brown pine-straw floor of the forest, then as if at a signal, they assumed a sudden stealth and stole off in the glimmering shadows.

Another writer recounts watching wild turkeys playing together on cold mornings:

Frequently as many as eight or ten will participate in a sort of chase during which they will run at each other, then dodge suddenly, missing a collision by inches. Sometimes they will duck through or around a patch of brush to put their companions off guard.

There is so much more to say about turkeys, but let us appreciate that turkeys have great spirits and they are great spirits, and that we should love and honor them as friends – familiar and mysterious friends of the woods and fields, and in the sanctuaries where we delight to make them happy.

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Amelia's legs began giving her trouble and then they went out altogether. She lost her mobility and will to live. She died peacefully at UPC's sanctuary in March 2011.