Male turkey acts as crossing guard for his flock

Here’s a video of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) that appeared on the Cheezburger site, and it’s amazing:

In Litchfield, New Hampshire, a turkey fully stopped traffic and stood guard until all the other turkeys crossed safely! The turkey guard did not cross until the last turkey was passing. Thanks to resident Donald Pomerleau for capturing the incredible footage!

Now my first thought was that this looked like a male herding a bunch of females. I then wondered whether wild turkeys form harems, and it turns out they do. The Cornell website, an authoritative source, says “flocks of young males or a dominant male with his harem of females may number several dozen or more.”

I counted 11 crossers, as well as the big male, in this group. And the others sure look like females.

Note how the big tail acts as a flag to help stop traffic.

h/t: Su

28 Comments

  1. Charles R. Coffey II
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen turkey’s do this, and deer, where a male will step into the road and stop traffic.

    The first question is: How well can turkeys count?

    The second is: Is there anyone tracking the evolution of species that live in close contact with humanity to study the adaptations? I know that the subject comes up more broadly in the literature, but is anyone concentrating on it as a specific field of study. These turkey’s seem to have developed a a better way here.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 20, 2019 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      I have the same questions.

      Whatever the reasons, that is wonderful to see.

      Since I’ve been reading WEIT, just about every day I’ve learned so much about animals that I wouldn’t have believed they’d be capable of — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a a pouting red-lipped batfish https://www.theverge.com/2016/6/12/11884594/red-lipped-batfish-verge-animal-review pulling out a tube of lipstick to touch up its lips. Heck, it’s got legs so it can walk, and a nose, too though it’s a lure.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted March 20, 2019 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Somewhere I heard or read (or I have a lousy memory, I can’t find the source) that hedgehogs have changed their behavior over the last fifty years or so from running directly away from bright lights to running perpendicular to the direction of the source. This would have obvious survival advantages, if true.

      In response to Speaker’s comment at 2 below:

      What did the hedgehog cross the road?
      To see his flat mate

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted March 20, 2019 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        WHY (of course) :/

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted March 20, 2019 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        WHY (of course) :/

    • eric
      Posted March 20, 2019 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      (1) I’m not sure he needs to count. If the others have an instinct to follow closely, simply waiting until the last one in line moves off will be ‘the right action’ 90% of the time.

      (2) I’m also not sure turkeys necessarily needed to have adapted. What distinguishes this behavior from, say, what he would do confronted with a big cow or bull? He could just be treating cars as big, potentially-but-not-yet-actually threatening animals.

      Squirrels treat cars as big animals. Which is unfortunately why they often get run over. In their case, they’ve evolved to evade larger animals by rapidly switching directions…which is a maladaptive instinct against fast-moving cars. But the point of the example is to say that I don’t think there necessarily has to be an evolutionary adaptation to cars going on here. It could just be that he’s got an instinct evolved to deal with other animals, and ‘car’ gets put in that category because it moves around and makes noise.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 20, 2019 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

        You’re probably right. I think most specific adaptations would take more than the time cars have been an issue.

  2. Posted March 20, 2019 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    We still haven’t figured out why the chicken crossed the road.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 20, 2019 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      There are several viable hypotheses afloat among comedians.

    • David Coxill
      Posted March 21, 2019 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Why did the pervert cross the road ?
      He could not withdraw his male member out of the chicken .

      Don’t know if that is suitable for this family aimed web page ,i cleaned it up as much as i could .

      Anyway coming out of Monument valley wanting to turn left there is a crossing ,took a photo of a line of goats crossing it .
      I was too late to get a photo of the dog they were following .

      PS, on the interweb there is a clip of a cat waiting for the cars to stop so it could use a crossing .

  3. Christopher
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    He does a better job than many human parents I’ve seen.

  4. Jeff Chamberlain
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen wild turkeys behave similarly in the woods. Herding, perhaps; stopping traffic, not so much.

  5. Posted March 20, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if this is a recent addition to the turkey’s behavior repertoire. I suspect it isn’t. Perhaps they do this whenever they cross a natural open space in the forest. They are exposed to predators while crossing and the male is just ensuring the exposure time is as short as possible and none get left behind.

  6. rickflick
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard that the line painted down the middle of the road can hypnotize a chicken. Perhaps turkeys too. The tom is saying to each of his harem, “Keep your eyes on the other side. Don’t look at the line.”

    • Posted March 20, 2019 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Crows, on the other hand, seem to understand the line down the middle of the road as a safe area. I’ve seen them several times picking at something right on the line while cars whiz past them. They seem to know just enough to be falsely confident.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 20, 2019 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        They will be here long after we’re gone. 😎

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 21, 2019 at 12:44 am | Permalink

        In New Zealand, mynah birds (Indian mynahs, an invader) are notorious for their traffic savvy. Also their cheekiness. They walk on the road and casually stroll aside just far enough to avoid approaching cars. I’ve never seen one run over.

        cr

        • Posted March 21, 2019 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          Same with crows. I was driving down a narrow alley where a crow was picking at some trash right in my path. It calmly walked to the side to let me pass. I saw him immediately walk back in my rearview.

  7. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    I see similar behavior with quail in my backyard, where one bird in a traveling group takes up a post on top of a rock and acts as lookout until the entire column has passed by.

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    This is so cool!

  9. Bill Morrison
    Posted March 20, 2019 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    The male turkey standing in the road is not the leader of that flock of hens and is certainly not guarding the flock. He is not even of breeding age as can be determined by his tail not being a smooth section of a circle. His tail has long feathers at the middle and shorter feathers left and right. This shows him to be a so called “jake”. The hens ignore jakes during the spring breeding season (puff up and strut as they may)and submit to “gobblers” (mature males) only.It is probably not even breeding season judging by the snow on the ground. My experience with wild turkeys is having raised eight of them from day old to two years of age. I also have observed them year round for fifteen years in northern Vermont. The leader of the flock was probably an older hen.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 20, 2019 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      But, it was such a poignant little episode. 😧
      I’m not too surprised. We often fall for an anthropomorphic interpretation which is usually wrnog.

    • Posted March 21, 2019 at 4:51 am | Permalink

      I stand corrected (or rather, my speculation was overturned). Thanks for the information.

    • Posted March 21, 2019 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      I wonder if that is the basis of the mild put-down of calling someone “Jake”. As in “It’s not ‘only a theory’, Jake!”

    • David Coxill
      Posted March 21, 2019 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      Sigh ,somewhere an angel has just died .

  10. Scott
    Posted March 21, 2019 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Maybe animals are being sent to traffic school?

    Here is a video of an elephant stopping traffic to pinch sugar cane from a truck.

    • Scott
      Posted March 21, 2019 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Sorry, If I just embedded a video. (think its against the roolz?)

      Wanted to just share the text link.

      oops.

  11. Mike
    Posted March 21, 2019 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    A few years ago, I was driving around a Lough in Ireland and came across the Biggest Billy Goat I have ever seen, he was stood in the middle of the road, while the rest of the Herd of Nannys and Kids crossed over and went up the Mountain.


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