A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Are turkeys so stupid they will look up in the sky when it rains and drown?

October 17, 1986

Dear Cecil:

Is it true that turkeys are so stupid they will look up in the sky when it rains and thereby drown?

Cecil replies:

Hmm. Wonder if that's why they won't let the Cubs play during a storm. Hey, just kidding. Turkeys don't literally drown in the rain. But there is a grain of truth to the idea that they do. Until they're about eight or nine weeks old, baby turkeys are covered with down rather than feathers. Consequently they're quite vulnerable to the effects of weather.

In the wild, the baby turkeys' mommas hustle them out of harm's way when a storm blows up. But domesticated turkey mothers, their will sapped by welfare handouts, are apparently too indolent to do so. (In fairness, modern poultry raising being what it is, Mom may no longer even be on the scene.) As a result, the chicks get cold and wet and often die of exposure when it rains.

Former farm kids from back in the days when every homestead had a few gobblers out back will tell you of being sent out into the barnyard after a downpour looking for small huddled bodies, in hopes that a few might be saved. Many will insist that the little clucks really did drown. But those I have quizzed about it admit they didn't actually stand out there in the rain and watch.

Now, it's true turkeys (and chickens) do a lot of things that don't exactly qualify as brilliant. When they get into a panic, for example, they'll all crowd into a corner trying to get away, and the sap on the bottom sometimes suffocates. But should we blame the poor turkeys for that? For shame — the real fault lies with the farmer, for failing to instruct his birds in proper evacuation procedures. In short, I don't think we should be so quick to write turkeys off as "stupid." Rather, let us recognize them for the tragic victims of society that they are.

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