The above video features Steven Todd Smith and rescued turkey, Turkey Lurkey, at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres.
When it comes to advocating on behalf of farmed animals, we’re often urged to “be a voice for the voiceless.” But this well-meaning adage misses the mark; a better formulation might exhort, “Be a voice for those whose voices go unheeded or unheard.” Not quite as eloquent, but it at least acknowledges the fact that farmed animals do have voices, and that they can and do speak. Indeed, they cry and plead for their lives; it is just that their voices are ignored.
But farmed animals communicate much more than fear and pain. Just like human animals, farmed animals have complex vocabularies that convey a wide range of emotions and messages, including joy, affection, contentedness, encouragement, mourning, and many other feelings.
Take turkeys: It is estimated that turkeys have over 30 different calls that make up part of their extensive communication system, which includes both verbal and non-verbal cues and gestures.
Researching turkey vocabulary online, I was saddened to discover that the sites with the most information on turkey communication are hunting sites. There, the sophistication and subtleties of turkey talk are explored not as something to appreciate, but as something to exploit; a catalog of calls to learn to mimic in order to trick unwitting birds into firing range, and gleefully obliterate them.
In reality, turkey calls are a joy to listen to simply as a means to appreciate these remarkable creatures, and as a way to better understand some of the most maligned, misunderstood and mistreated animals in the world.
Below you can find just a few of the many fascinating sounds and calls made by both domestic and wild turkeys. But first, lest you think the talkative turkey in the video above was an exceptional case, here’s one more amazing turkey-human dialogue that demonstrates just how friendly and garrulous turkeys can be when they feel safe and loved. Here, Tomoko the turkey chats with a visitor to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.
Need more reasons to leave turkeys off the menu? Check out our feature, 12 Reasons You May Never Want to Eat Turkey Again, which includes a great list of delicious plant-based turkey alternatives that can take center stage at any holiday table. And now, please enjoy some turkey vocabulary! I personally love the turkey Purr, the “good morning!” Tree Call, and the little lost turkey call or Kee Kee.
Click the link under each turkey call to hear a short audio clip.
The cluck consists of one or more short, sharp “puck” sounds. It is generally used by one bird to get the attention of another, meaning, “Here I am, where are you?”
Purring is a soft, rolling call turkeys make when contented, often while feeding.
Cluck & Purr
The cluck and purr is a cluck followed by a rolling, almost staccato call. It is often associated with reassuring flock talk or the congenial expression of contented fellowship.
The putt is a loud cluck delivered in one or several sharp notes, and is used to signal alarm when a turkey has seen or heard something and perceived it as danger.
The tree call is a reassuring vocalization used by members of a flock when they are roosting in a tree, and helps them to communicate their location to each other. Turkeys of both sexes tree call in the morning after they have woken up, letting other turkeys know all is well.
Fly-Down or Fly-up Cackle
A cackle is an excited vocalization usually consisting of a series of irregular, fast clucks, loud and staccato, or a rising and falling cutt-cutt-cutt sequence, made when a turkey is flying up to or down from a roost, or over an obstacle such as a ravine.
The assembly call is a series of loud yelps used by an adult hen to reassemble her scattered flock or young poults.
The plain yelp is a staple of turkey communication and is used to locate other turkeys during the day. The plain yelp can have different meanings depending on how it is used, but it typically means, “Here I am, come here!” in turkey talk. It is also commonly used by a hen to communicate with a male during mating season.
Cutting is a series of loud, sharp clucks strung together in a fast sequence, and often mixed with yelping. It is used by lost or lonely hens searching for other turkeys, and is also used by hens in the Spring to announce to males that they are ready to mate.
The excited yelp indicates that a turkey is worked up about something.
Kee Kee Run or “Lost Call”
The kee kee run is a call made by lost young turkeys calling out for help to relocate the group. If the mother or other birds are nearby, they will respond and help the lost turkey find his way back to the flock. The Lost Call is a variation made by lone adult birds who have gotten separated from flock mates and is a long series of yelps uttered with a pronounced tone of urgency.
Gobbling is a loud, rapid gurgling sound made by male turkeys. It is used primarily in the spring to attract hens or to express territorial dominance to other males.
The hundreds of millions of turkeys killed for meat every single year are individuals with unique personalities and emotions, just like our beloved cats and dogs. Like them, and like us, they long to live and to be free from fear and pain. Please learn more about turkeys raised for food at our feature, 12 Reasons You May Never Want to Eat Turkey Again. And please consider leaving turkeys — and all animals — off your menu this holiday, and every day.
For tips on delicious plant-based turkey alternatives, scroll down to the last section of this feature.